About the Reading Club
The aim of the BTT reading club is to learn about the evolutionary history of the vertebrate brain and to promote the discussion between distant fields in neuroscience about the consequences that such history has for our understanding of modern brains. We will follow the book Brains Through Time, by Georg Striedter and Glenn Northcutt, chapter by chapter in sessions of 120 minutes. For each session, we will count with the participation of experts from different disciplines that are interested in the topics discussed in the corresponding chapter.
The vertebrate brain is the result of millions of years of evolution, a slow but relentless trial-and-error process that has found key innovations permitting the exploitation of the environment in novel and ever more sophisticated ways.
The first goal of the BTT Reading Club is to learn the history of these innovations. Brains Through Time does an extraordinary job at explaining in detail not only these key changes undergone by the vertebrate brain but also the environment in which those changes took place.
Our second goal is to question how much of this detailed history we need to know in order to understand the brain of modern vertebrates. In the same way that ignoring all that knowledge would seem like a terrible mistake, we may risk wasting much of our precious time if we try to take into account every small detail of the evolution of the brain to try to make sense of it.
A third goal, related to the previous one, is to discuss how much we need to understand the brain and the way it was created, to produce an intelligent artificial system. The highly successful Machine Learning techniques that are nowadays applied to many different problems in industry, start from an already evolved (and developed) network that only needs to learn the statistics of the patterns it encounters to maximize an a priori defined goal. Is this enough? Could we incorporate some of the tricks used by evolution to improve the performance of current machine learning methods?
Addressing these goals will require the ideas and the questions from very distant fields, from Evo-Devo to Systems and Computational Neuroscience and Machine Learning. Therefore, a final goal of the BTT Reading Club is to boost the discussion between very different fields in neuroscience, with the hope that together we can find the right questions to ask in the enormous challenge that is understanding the brain.