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Monday, July 21, 2014

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The ultimate programmable calculator — the brain


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Princeton professor Carlos Brody is seeking to understand the mechanisms that control brain cells involved in short-term memory and decision-making. Read more.


Video Closed Captions


Carlos Brody:
Oh, I've been a geek from a very early age.

Carlos Brody:
When I was, I think, about 12
my parents, for my birthday,

Carlos Brody:
they bought me a programmable calculator.

Carlos Brody:
And they hid it away, waiting for my birthday.

Carlos Brody:
But I found out that they bought it, and I found out

Carlos Brody:
where it was.

Carlos Brody:
And so at night, when they were asleep, I would crawl out

Carlos Brody:
of bed, and go to the closet
where they'd hidden it away,

Carlos Brody:
and open it, and play with
it, and learn to program.

Carlos Brody:
That's when I first learned to program.

Carlos Brody:
And then of course, I'd wrap
it back up and put it back

Carlos Brody:
away, so that they wouldn't know
that I'd been doing this.

Carlos Brody:
And then when it came to
learning about the brain, it

Carlos Brody:
was like it turned out to
be the most incredible,

Carlos Brody:
complicated, huge programmable
calculator ever.

Carlos Brody:
So it's the same problem,
except it's so much more

Carlos Brody:
interesting and complicated.

Carlos Brody:
I think a lot of neuroscientists get into it

Carlos Brody:
because it's us.

Carlos Brody:
It's really about trying to
understand what makes us tick.

Carlos Brody:
There's 10 billion neurons
in a typical human brain.

Carlos Brody:
Each of those, on average, connects to

Carlos Brody:
about a thousand others.

Carlos Brody:
So that's 10 to the 14 synapses,
10 to the 14 connections.

Carlos Brody:
We always say, "That's more stars
than there are in the

Carlos Brody:
known universe."

Carlos Brody:
One of the reasons that I chose
to come to Princeton was

Carlos Brody:
because so many of my heroes
are here at Princeton.

Carlos Brody:
For example, John Hopfield.

Carlos Brody:
I credit John with being the person who

Carlos Brody:
taught me how to think.

Carlos Brody:
David Tank, who has developed
some of the most advanced

Carlos Brody:
technologies that we use to
study the brain, and is still

Carlos Brody:
doing so in a very exciting way.

Carlos Brody:
And I knew, of course, that the
students were excellent.

Carlos Brody:
That was one of the things that brought me here.

Carlos Brody:
It was a delight how intelligent
and how motivated

Carlos Brody:
and how serious about the work
a lot of the students can be.

Carlos Brody:
Because the brain is so crazily
complicated, and

Carlos Brody:
because it works at so many
levels, you can start studying

Carlos Brody:
the brain at the level of a
single neuron or you can study

Carlos Brody:
it at the level of a few tens of neurons.

Carlos Brody:
Or you can study it at the level
of thousands of neurons.

Carlos Brody:
Or you can study it at the level
of behavior, in billions

Carlos Brody:
of neurons.

Carlos Brody:
Those are many different ways
to look at it, and require

Carlos Brody:
many different ways of thinking.

Carlos Brody:
Some of them require molecular
biology, some of them require

Carlos Brody:
psychology, some of them require
computer science.

Carlos Brody:
The brain, because of its nature, requires

Carlos Brody:
interdisciplinary cross-level
thinking to make the advances

Carlos Brody:
beyond what we know now.

Carlos Brody:
It's about exchanging ideas, no matter which

Carlos Brody:
department you're in.

Carlos Brody:
And that has been a big part of
what promotes neuroscience

Carlos Brody:
here at Princeton, and what
makes me think, "Oh, we're

Carlos Brody:
really going to do something
special here."

Carlos Brody:
Understanding how the brain
works will have impact on

Carlos Brody:
philosophy, will have impact
on engineering, will have

Carlos Brody:
impact on health.

Carlos Brody:
And here at Princeton, we're on
the cusp of producing those

Carlos Brody:
interdisciplinary links right now.

Carlos Brody:
The best part about being here?

Carlos Brody:
The stellar intellects that you're surrounded by.

Carlos Brody:
The challenge that that provides.

Carlos Brody:
There are a lot of people here
who are smarter than I am.

Carlos Brody:
That's where I want to be.

[music]

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