How Occam’s Razor Guides Human and Machine Decision-Making

  • Speaker
  • Joshua Gold, Ph.D.Professor, Neuroscience, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania
Date & Time


Gerald D. Fischbach Auditorium
160 5th Ave
New York, NY 10010 United States

View Map

5:30 p.m. Doors open

6:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. Lecture and Q&A

All participants must register in advance to attend this in-person lecture.

About Simons Foundation Presidential Lectures

Simons Foundation Presidential Lectures are free public colloquia centered on four main themes: Biology, Physics, Mathematics and Computer Science, and Neuroscience and Autism Science. These curated, high-level scientific talks feature leading scientists and mathematicians and are intended to foster discourse and drive discovery among the broader NYC-area research community. We invite anyone interested in the topic to join us for this weekly lecture series.

Deciding something as potentially complicated as what to do next or as deceptively simple as where to look next requires our brains to deliberate; that is, to move beyond the rigidness and immediacy of sensory-motor reflexes and instead take time to process and weigh evidence in a flexible manner until arriving at a categorical judgment that guides behavior. Our understanding of this deliberation process, which represents a major building block of cognition, has benefited greatly from mathematically rigorous theories from some unexpected places.

In this lecture, Joshua Gold will describe two theoretical frameworks that support ongoing studies of deliberative decision-making in the brain, focusing on their historical origins. The first describes quantitatively the process by which uncertain evidence can be accumulated over time to balance the competing needs of maximizing decision accuracy while minimizing decision time. This framework is built on mathematical advances that Alan Turing and colleagues developed to decode messages sent via the Enigma machine during World War II. The second describes how biases can emerge in this information-accumulation process that can be helpful when considering options that differ in form and scope. This framework is a formalization of Occam’s razor, which states that all else being equal, simple solutions are better — an idea directly relevant to how biological and artificial brains can make effective decisions.

To attend this in-person event, you will need to:
Register in advance
• Provide valid photo ID upon entering the building
• Present your digital or printed Eventbrite ticket confirmation; make sure it is for the correct event and that the name on it matches your ID
• Wear a mask while in the auditorium and restrooms

Please note that by entering the Simons Foundation, you are attesting that you are not experiencing COVID symptoms and are not knowingly positive for COVID

About the Speaker

Gold is a neuroscientist whose training included studying mechanisms of learning as an undergraduate and graduate student and mechanisms of decision-making as a post-doctoral fellow. He currently is a professor of neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania, where he combines his training experiences into studies of how learning and decision-making interact in the primate brain. He is also chair of the Neuroscience Graduate Group, co-director of the Computational Neuroscience Initiative and father of three teenage children, all of which reflect his deep commitment to mentoring, education and patience.

Advancing Research in Basic Science and MathematicsSubscribe to our newsletters to receive news & updates