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The brain as a spin glass...

It's been a while since I've attended any of our weekly colloquia, but I'm definitely not going to miss this one:

Speaker: John Beggs
Indiana University

Title: Condensed gray matter: Emergent properties in networks of cortical neurons


The brain, though tremendously complex, consists of many apparently similar neurons. This homogeneity has led researchers to borrow concepts from physics in an effort to explain how collective phenomena could emerge from interactions. For example, several models predict that neural networks should operate optimally near a critical point like that in a continuous phase transition, and exhibit numerous metastable states like those seen in a spin glass. The critical point may allow optimum information transmission through avalanches within a network, while metastable states may be useful for information storage. Our recent experiments support these predictions. Brain slices of rat cortex can be kept alive while microelectrode arrays monitor their activity for hours or even days. Using off-line analysis, we show that many of the concepts used in condensed matter physics can be fruitfully applied to small networks of cortical neurons.

DATE: Thursday, January 12, 2006
TIME: 4:00 P.M.
PLACE: Thimann Lecture Hall 1

NOTE: Colloquia schedule / information is now
available on the World Wide Web:


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 11th, 2006 09:14 pm (UTC)
This sounds like something similar to what my friend/former housemaste Cristian was working on for his Physics Phd...
Jan. 12th, 2006 03:45 am (UTC)
Let us know how it turns out. I don't know much about condensed matter physics, but I think that state ands phase transitions are the absolute best way to think about neural networks and the way I always think about them.
Jan. 14th, 2006 11:26 pm (UTC)

Let us know how it turns out.

It was really cool... he's an excellent speaker. Even cooler is that this is part of a new-faculty search we're doing so there's a chance he might come work here if the other faculty liked him as much as I did. (He's currently at the Biocomplexity Institute), a subset of Indiana University)

The only thing that surprised me was how little we know currently about how neurons in the cerebral cortex work. His model is ridiculously oversimplified, but he's making progress and getting some predictions for his theory which match what they're seeing in these rat brains. It's the first step in what seems to be a very interesting research program; I hope it continues on and more resources are dedicated to this line of investigation.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )


domino plural

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