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This is the "Synaptic Darwinism" website of Paul Adams and Kingsley Cox, who work at the Kalypso Mind/Brain Center, and in the Department of Neurobiology at Stony Brook University.

Paul Adams Lecture Notes

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 Brain"

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 issues here:
(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: life.


Below are PDF files of my "From Synapse to Circuit" lecture notes 

Lecture 1  PDF

Lecture 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

Statistics1  PDF

Olfaction1  PDF

Central synaptic transmission 1  PDF

Simple Neural Circuits and Linear Algebra.  PDF

The Linear Associator  PDF

Hopfield Networks and the Hippocampus  PDF

Hebbery  PDF


The Retina  PDF

The Neocortex  PDF

Human Neocortex and Origins of Language  PDf

We thank Kristen Harris for the image of a EM reconstruction of a CA1 pyramidal cell dendrite used as a background to pages on this website. The image is from the website Synapse Web

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