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Seminar: Professor Karl Friston

November 23, 2016 @ 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm

I am therefore I think
Wednesday 23 November @ 4 pm5:30 pm (Le Gros Clark Lecture Theatre)

Karl Friston from University College London (UCL) will discuss his research at the Cortex Club on Wednesday 23 November. Friston currently works on models of functional integration in the human brain and the principles that underlie neuronal interactions. His main contribution to theoretical neurobiology is a free-energy principle for action and perception (active inference).

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Karl Friston is a theoretical neuroscientist and authority on brain imaging. He invented statistical parametric mapping (SPM), voxel-based morphometry (VBM) and dynamic causal modelling (DCM). These contributions were motivated by schizophrenia research and theoretical studies of value-learning – formulated as the dysconnection hypothesis of schizophrenia. Mathematical contributions include variational Laplacian procedures and generalized filtering for hierarchical Bayesian model inversion.

This overview of the free energy principle offers an account of embodied exchange with the world that associates neuronal operations with actively inferring the causes of our sensations. Its agenda is to link formal (mathematical) descriptions of dynamical systems to a description of perception in terms of beliefs and goals. The argument has two parts: the first calls on the lawful dynamics of any (weakly mixing) ergodic system – from a single cell organism to a human brain. These lawful dynamics suggest that (internal) states can be interpreted as modelling or predicting the (external) causes of sensory fluctuations. In other words, if a system exists, its internal states must encode probabilistic beliefs about external states. Heuristically, this means that if I exist (am) then I must have beliefs (think). The second part of the argument is that the only tenable beliefs I can entertain about myself are that I exist. This may seem rather obvious; however, it transpires that this is equivalent to believing that the world – and the way it is sampled – will resolve uncertainty about the causes of sensations. We will consider the implications for functional anatomy, in terms of predictive coding and hierarchical architectures, and conclude by looking at the epistemic behaviour that emerges – using simulations of active inference.

Further reading
Friston et al. (2015). Knowing one’s place: a free-energy approach to pattern regulation. J R Soc Interface 6;12(105).


November 23, 2016
4:00 pm - 5:30 pm


Lecture Theatre, Le Gros Clark Building
Le Gros Clark Building
Oxford, OX1 3QX
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