I teach an undergraduate course at Stony Brook, called "From Synapse to
Circuit: Selforganization of the Brain". This course presents some of the
basic ideas of contemporary neuroscience in a more quantitative, and abstract,
form than is commonly encountered in introductory neurobiology courses. The aim
of the course is to sketch how the special properties of biological molecules
(such as ion channels), synapses, neurons and the circuits they comprise lead to
the extraordinary features of "mind": complex adaptive behavior,
knowledge, understanding, emotion, sleep, dreams, language, even consciousness
and "soul". The underlying idea is that the special properties of
synapses, arising from the molecules of which they are composed, endow the
brain, by a process of "selforganization", with unexpected features,
such as "mind". "Selforganization" refers to the way that
many complex systems, composed of large numbers of relatively simple interacting
parts, behave in unexpected ways when the rules governing the interaction of the
parts have particular forms. The course does not aim to be comprehensive, partly
because the subject is too vast, and partly because neuroscientists (especially
me) do not yet completely understand the subject. The following is the summary
of the course that appears in the Stony Brook undergraduate handbook:
"BIO 338 "From Synapse to Circuit: Selforganisation of the
Exploration of basic neural and synaptic mechanisms and the operation of
representative brain circuits, using both theoretical approaches and
experimental evidence. Particular attention will be given to Hebb’s Rule
("cells that fire together, wire together"), its cellular basis,
its consequences for circuit selforganisation, and its limits. The course is
aimed at anyone with curiosity about the brain, who is willing to tackle a
range of reading, including original research papers. A solid background in
a mathematical, physical or biological science is desirable, though the
course will be largely selfcontained.
The 2005 Syllabus for the course can be seen by clicking here.
Note on the Hebb Synapse.
An important unifying concept of the course is the "Hebb
Synapse". This is a special sortof neural connection which responds to the coincident electrical activity
of the 2 nerve cells making the connection by becoming stronger. There are 2 important
(1) how is it that a subcellular structure can behave in this special
way, as a result of the
interaction of the molecules of which it is composed.
(2) why is it that this special synaptic property can lead to "selforganisation"
of extremely complex structures, such as the human brain? – structures which seem to
have minds, even though the constituent molecules and synapses do not?
So the course both looks "down" from synapses to molecules and
"up" from synapses to minds. The course starts out by considering 2 other examples of "looking
both up and down".
Phase transitions: molecular interaction leads to unexpected properties
such as the melting of ice and the magnetization of iron.
Life: Molecular selfreplication leads to even more unexpected properties:
Below are PDF files of my "From Synapse to Circuit" lecture notes
Lecture 1 PDF
2 Molecular Evolution PDF
Lecture 2a – Origin of Life.pdf PDF
Lecture 3 Membrane Potential PDF
Hodgkin Huxley PDF
Spike threshold1 PDF
Introduction to synaptic transmission PDF
PAdams/Synaptic transmission 2 PDF
Central synaptic transmission 1 PDF
Simple Neural Circuits and Linear Algebra. PDF
The Linear Associator PDF
Hopfield Networks and the Hippocampus PDF
The Retina PDF
The Neocortex PDF
Human Neocortex and Origins of Language PDf