Computation-through-dynamics as a framework to link brain and behavior

  • Awardees
  • Mehrdad Jazayeri, Ph.D. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Valerio Mante, Ph.D. University of Zurich
  • Maneesh Sahani, Ph.D. University College London
  • Krishna Shenoy, Ph.D. Stanford University
  • David Sussillo, Ph.D. Google

The human brain is a daunting object: It contains nearly 100 billion neurons, each one linked to roughly 10,000 other neurons, making 100 trillion total connections in the brain. To make matters more complicated, each neuron can fire up to hundreds of times per second. Understanding this blizzard of activity is one of science’s final frontiers. The brain’s basic functions — such as planning, decision-making, and behavior — require multiple brain areas and many thousands or millions of neurons, generating complex patterns of neural activity. Determining what aspects of this ever-changing activity are relevant for the task at hand, and how it ultimately leads to thoughts and behavior, can appear as an insurmountable challenge. One may think that studying very simple behaviors will help us solve this challenge. However, the opposite may true — the solution could lie in making the tasks we study more complex. By studying how the brain solves the same problem in many different settings, our group aims to better distinguish the relevant, invariant components of brain activity — those that are common to all settings — from components that are variable and thus not critical to the task at hand. We seek to develop a mathematical framework that can explain how invariant components emerge from the seeming chaos of neural activity and how their dynamics implement the computations necessary to drive behavior. We refer to this framework as ‘computation-through-dynamics.’ We will ensure our mathematical descriptions remain faithful to the reality of the brain by tightly integrating experimental and theoretical approaches within our group. With this interdisciplinary approach, we hope to make the task of understanding the human brain’s 100 billion neurons a little more tractable.

*Krishna Shenoy passed away in January 2023. You can read more about his life and work here: A Scientist’s Quest for Better Brain-Computer Interfaces Opens a Window on Neural Dynamics.

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