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The 2009-2010 M.R. Bauer Foundation Colloquium Series, Distinguished Lecturer Series and Annual Scientific Retreat

Introduction

Neuroscience is a new science, although its underlying interests have been perennial ones. Over 2,000 years ago Aristotle taught that the mind, or intellect, must be unmixed with the body. This is so, he reasoned, because the mind can think about objects of any sort (in contrast to the sense organs, whose functions are limited to a single modality). Five hundred years ago, Descartes argued that the brain and mind, while intimately connected (as he thought, through the pineal gland), are separate and distinct entities. That the mind is embodied in a brain—that to understand the workings of the mind, we must understand the workings of the brain—is a relatively recent insight. This insight brings together biological disciplines with psychological ones in a common scientific pursuit—and it has been, since its inception, the animating purpose of the Volen National Center for Complex Systems at Brandeis University.

More than a decade ago, the Volen Center entered into a fruitful partnership with the M.R. Bauer Foundation. Support from the Bauer Foundation makes possible two annual series, the M.R. Bauer Colloquium Series and the M.R. Bauer Distinguished Guest Lecturer Series, as well as an annual scientific retreat. Interdisciplinary discussion is the hallmark of each of these programs. They are founded on the recognition that neuroscience exists and flourishes at the intersection of neurobiology, computation modeling, cognitive science and other fields.

The fruits of these scientific exchanges can be seen in these proceedings. The talks summarized here range widely in their specific topics and findings. Yet a common theme runs through them: the extraordinary richness, complexity and subtlety of the connections by which the nervous system operates. This is evident in the normal functioning of healthy organisms, and it is also evident in the unfortunate breakdown of that functioning through illness or malformation. Studying these connections not only deepens our understanding of the workings of the brain, it also holds the promise of progress in treatment of diseases of the central nervous system.

Like other scientific fields, neuroscience is a collective enterprise and a continuing one. Neuroscientists build on the work of colleagues and predecessors, and, in turn, train and mentor the next generation of scientists. The M.R. Bauer Colloquium Series, Distinguished Guest Lecturer Series and Scientific Retreat are integral parts of this process. At each of these events, senior scientists and junior colleagues come together with postdoctoral fellows and graduate students. They exchange new knowledge. They air new ideas. New collaborations begin to take shape. This is how the field moves forward.

The publication of these proceedings further widens the conversation. Through these proceedings, we extend to the larger community of neuroscientists the insights and findings of each of the speakers in the M.R. Bauer programs at the Volen Center. We are grateful for the generous support that makes all of this possible, and we are honored by this long-standing association.

Arthur Wingfield, D.Phil.
Nancy Lurie Marks Professor of
Neuroscience and
Director, Volen National Center for
Complex Systems