[Bmi] BMI debate: Can we start to look at the brain-mind from the entire system point of view?

James A. Bednar jbednar at inf.ed.ac.uk
Mon Oct 24 18:27:17 EDT 2011

|  From: Juyang Weng
|  Date: Oct 23 20:13:47 2011 -0400
|     Yes, from a scientific point of view, both development and evolution
|     are important to study.   From an engineering point of view, however,
|     the cost of evolution to reach a human-level performance is extremely
|     high.  Primates have a history of at least 65 millions of years.
|     This perspective does not rule out any possible benefits of evolution
|     in engineering studies.  Partial evolution based on development is
|     still worth studying.

Even apart from engineering, I think that evolution has a very
different scientific status than neural development.  Development of a
lifeform with very impressive brain/mind capabilities (such as a cat)
can occur over a few weeks or months.  That timescale makes it
theoretically possible for a scientist to observe and tinker with the
entire process in order to come to a complete understanding of it as a
physical mechanism (eventually).  Where brains are concerned, we're
still very far from such an understanding, but the potential to
understand it is there, and thus development is fully available as an
object of scientific inquiry.

We can also understand many aspects of evolution, and of course
explaining development beyond the mere mechanics of it will require
understanding evolvability.  But evolution of advanced life forms
requires so many generations that it is not something that a scientist
can either observe or substantially alter in his/her own lifetime.
Thus many of our hypotheses about the evolution of higher animals are

Being untestable doesn't mean the hypotheses aren't true, but it does
mean that evolution can't be put on quite the same scientific footing
as development.  Whereas I do firmly believe that the only hope that
we'll ever understand brains is via development.  The adult human
brain is astonishingly complex in its details, but is nonetheless
constructed from a relatively compact specification in the genome.  If
we can start mapping out the smaller rather than the larger end of
this process, we might have some chance to make headway in our

|     The major problem in many evolutionary models is the absence of
|     development --- genome is mistakenly taken to be task specific,
|     corresponding to intelligence directly.   As I understand, the main
|     purpose of the genome is to regulate development, not
|     to directly generate behaviors or intelligence.

Heartily agreed!  But there are at least a few computational
evolutionary approaches that take development seriously.


|     On 10/20/11 3:02 PM, Ali Minai wrote:
|       John
|       I think that a developmental perspective is crucial if we're ever
|       going to understand how the mind emerges from the brain, or how the
|       brain-body system works. In fact, I would say that we have to
|       include not only development but also evolution - not only how the
|       zygote develops into a functional animal, but also how simple
|       animals evolve into animals with more complex functionality by using
|       the same modules in myriad ways. I have argued (and am writing a
|       book chapter on this) that the "evo-devo" approach needs to be
|       extended into the third dimension of mental function - asking "what
|       systematic evolutionary and developmental processes allow the
|       emergence of a system capable of mental function. Just as we have
|       the idea of "evolvability", so there must be an equivalent idea of
|       "mentability" (or some such word) that distinguishes systems capable
|       of mental function from those incapable of this. This should then be
|       connected to development and evolution.
|       All this said, I think that these types of global theoretical
|       approaches complement rather than replace the focused study of
|       specific subsystems like the hippocampus. Of course, I say this as
|       someone who has worked on such systems (including the hippocampus,
|       where Dave's work has been a major influence for me). Both global
|       and parcellated investigations contribute to our understanding. To
|       insist on one or the other would just be an ideological choice.
|       Best
|       Ali
|     On Thu, Oct 20, 2011 at 2:07 PM, Juyang Weng <[1]weng at cse.msu.edu>
|     wrote:
|     Dear all:
|     After talking to some of my colleagues, we here kick of a BMI debate
|     via this email on [2]bmi at lists.cse.msu.edu.
|     Many of you on this anonymous list told me that they are interested and
|     want to be posted.  However, we will use this
|     anonymous list sparely.   If you want to keep posted about this debate
|     and other BMI activities, sign on bmi mailing list
|     at [3]http://lists.cse.msu.edu/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/bmi or simply
|     Google it with key words like "BMI mailing list MSU".
|     Once you receive email from the mailing list, you can post simply via
|     reply.   BMI mailing list is a moderated list to avoid
|     unrelated emails.  If there are sufficient interest, BMI might host a
|     live web debate in a few weeks.  Post your views!
|     The following email I sent to Dave Touretzky is the kick-off for the
|     BMI debates.  I will provide some interesting examples soon.
|     On 10/20/11 12:59 PM, Juyang Weng wrote:
|       Hi Dave,
|       I read some of your papers about hippocampus, which are very
|       interesting.  Let me inject some basic but probably very
|       controversial ideas you probably will reject.  If you do not mind, I
|       will post this discussion to the BMI mailing list.   The main
|       purpose is to attract more talented researchers to this important
|       brain-mind subject.
|       How about looking at the brain from a top system point of view?  I
|       believe that top (but detailed) theory is powerful, since the brain
|       basically does signal processing (not in the traditional sense).
|       Maybe with this view, our future design of experiments could be
|       more productive?  Let me start from one example:
|       One of your papers is "Synaptic Learning Models of Map Separation in
|       the Hippocampus", Neurocomputing, 32:379-384, 2000.   The co-authors
|       wrote: "If the perforant path projection to CA3 functions as a
|       pattern completion mechanism, and the DG projection via the mossy
|       fibers performs pattern separation (O'Reilly and McClelland, 1994),
|       then ..."
|       My new perspectives about the brain benefited from such local views,
|       but I think that such local views can also benefit from the entire
|       brain-mind point of view, in the sense of a giant Finite Automaton
|       (FA).   This brain FA is not handcrafted, but rather developed,
|       since all phenotypes emerge from a single cell (zygote).   So, I
|       model such a developmental FA as the Developmental Network (DN).
|       Then, the Hippocampus is simply a very small part of a giant DN.
|       According to how the DN works, I predict the following:  If we focus
|       on a small part (e.g., Hippocampus) of this DN, we definitely will
|       get hopelessly lost, like a hiker in a forest without a global
|       map.   He can see some local phenomena from where he stands, but he
|       did not see the entire forest.
|       Focused, per-phenomenon discoveries have been prevailing in the
|       brain science literature in the modern science, with few exceptions
|       (Charles Darwin is one).  This is probably because only such papers
|       can be accepted and funded in the modern time.  Although those
|       phenomena are useful, they are piece meals.  Now, there seem to have
|       enough pieces to put the grand puzzle together.  I have established
|       what a DN can do in real time, by modeling the brain-mind from the
|       entire FA (DN) point of view.  Since all pieces of DN seem to fit
|       what we know about the brain science, the brain should not be less
|       efficient than a DN.
|       You can say that this is just fantasy, but I have a series of
|       rigorous proofs.
|       Daniel M. Wolpert said at SfN 2009 that the over 1400-page long
|       volume of "Principles of Neural Science" by Kandel et al. could be
|       much condensed if we could model the entire brain in computational
|       theory.   I hope that the DN theory can help that condensing
|       process.
|       A major infrastructure problem is that what I talked about above
|       spans at least 6 disciplines.   Meaningful conversations are
|       extremely difficult.  If you feel angry or insulted by my above
|       text, I feel that it is partially because of this huge divide.
|       I am giving a CC to Jay, as his work was cited.
|       Best regards,
|       -John
|     -John

|  Juyang (John) Weng, Professor
|  Department of Computer Science and Engineering
|  MSU Cognitive Science Program and MSU Neuroscience Program
|  3115 Engineering Building
|  Michigan State University
|  East Lansing, MI 48824 USA
|  Tel: [4]517-353-4388
|  Fax: [5]517-432-1061
|  Email: [6]weng at cse.msu.edu
|  URL: [7]http://www.cse.msu.edu/~weng/
|  ----------------------------------------------

|       Ali A. Minai, Ph.D.
|       Professor
|       Complex Adaptive Systems Lab
|       School of Electronic & Computing Systems
|       University of Cincinnati
|       Cincinnati, OH 45221-0030
|       Phone: (513) 556-4783
|       Fax: (513) 556-7326
|       Email: [8]Ali.Minai at uc.edu
|                 [9]minaiaa at gmail.com
|       WWW: [10]http://www.ece.uc.edu/~aminai/
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|  Juyang (John) Weng, Professor
|  Department of Computer Science and Engineering
|  MSU Cognitive Science Program and MSU Neuroscience Program
|  3115 Engineering Building
|  Michigan State University
|  East Lansing, MI 48824 USA
|  Tel: 517-353-4388
|  Fax: 517-432-1061
|  Email: [14]weng at cse.msu.edu
|  URL: [15]http://www.cse.msu.edu/~weng/
|  ----------------------------------------------
|  References
|     1. mailto:weng at cse.msu.edu
|     2. mailto:bmi at lists.cse.msu.edu
|     3. http://lists.cse.msu.edu/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/bmi
|     4. tel:517-353-4388
|     5. tel:517-432-1061
|     6. mailto:weng at cse.msu.edu
|     7. http://www.cse.msu.edu/%7Eweng/
|     8. mailto:Ali.Minai at uc.edu
|     9. mailto:minaiaa at gmail.com
|    10. http://www.ece.uc.edu/%7Eaminai/
|    11. mailto:BMI at lists.cse.msu.edu
|    12. http://lists.cse.msu.edu/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/bmi
|    13. http://lists.cse.msu.edu/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/bmi
|    14. mailto:weng at cse.msu.edu
|    15. http://www.cse.msu.edu/~weng/
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