Clay Reid & The Brain Institute

Sounds like a band name, huh? As I jet off to Cosyne, this article seemed appropriate:

As an undergraduate at Yale, he majored in physics and philosophy and in mathematics, but in the end decided he didn’t want to be a physicist. Biology was attractive, but he was worried enough about his mathematical bent to talk to one of his philosophy professors about concerns that biology would too fuzzy for him.

The professor had some advice. “You really should read Hubel and Wiesel,” he said, referring to David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel, who had just won the Nobel Prize in 1981 for their work showing how binocular vision develops in the brain…

“Torsten once said to me, ‘You know, Clay, science is not an intelligence test.’ ”Though he didn’t recall that specific comment, Dr. Wiesel said recently that it sounded like something he would have said. “I think there are a lot of smart people who never make it in science. Why is it? What is it that is required in addition?”…

He is studying only one part of one animal’s brain, but, he said, the cortex — the part of the mammalian brain where all this calculation goes on — is something of a general purpose computer. So the rules for one process could explain other processes, like hearing. And the rules for decision-making could apply to many more complicated situations in more complicated brains. Perhaps the mouse visual cortex can be a kind of Rosetta stone for the brain’s code.

It’s a fun read about the goals of Clay Reid and of the Brain Institute as a whole. I’m always dubious about using the visual system as a model for anything subcortical, and for implicitly assuming that non-cortex is less important than cortex. And what about long-time scale modulation? But for all that, they’re doing pretty cool stuff up there.