Neuroscientist to Discuss Brain Development at UA ALLELE Lecture

  • February 17th, 2017
Dr. Michael Anderson
Dr. Michael Anderson

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Neuroscientist and professor Dr. Michael Anderson will speak about the evolution of the brain, cognition and how our bodies relate to the way we think at the next Alabama Lectures on Life’s Evolution, or ALLELE, series at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 23, in the North Lawn Hall auditorium on The University of Alabama campus.

Anderson’s talk, “Neural Reuse in the Evolution and Development of the Brain,” will explore the way cognition evolved and how human abilities such as language and math derived from existing bodily functions. The lecture is free and open to the public.

Dr. Firat Soylu, an assistant professor in the educational psychology program at UA, said Anderson is at the forefront of a new way of thinking about cognition.

According to Soylu, the human brain has traditionally been compared to a machine where each part performs a specific role and cognition is computational. Anderson, on the other hand, explores the idea of embodied cognition, where cognition is grounded in bodily functions. Bodily functions evolved to do things like hunting or gathering food, and they use highly dynamic distributed brain networks.

ALLELE aims to bring guests from different fields to talk about evolution. Anderson uses evolutionary and embodied approaches to understand the brain, Soylu said. The metaphors we use to understand the brain often fail us. For example, the danger of comparing a brain to a computer is that it implies the brain represents a perfect unity of modular components that perform specific functions.

Soylu said he hopes people who attend will leave with not only a greater understanding of the brain, but of themselves.

“I think the interesting thing about evolution is that it helps us understand who we are and where we came from,” Soylu said. “Anderson’s perspective changes how you think. If you think of your brain as a machine, then you’ll see yourself as a machine.”

Anderson has written more than 100 scholarly and scientific works that explore issues invovling psychology, neuroscience, computer science and the philosophy of cognitive science. His latest book is “After Phrenology: Neural Reuse and the Interactive Brain.” He is an associate professor and chair of psychology at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

The ALLELE series brings speakers to the UA campus to discuss aspects of evolution.

The 2016-2017 ALLELE series is supported by UA’s College of Arts and Sciences, the Alabama Museum of Natural History, the Office of Academic Affairs, Honors College, the Blount Scholars Program and UA’s departments of American studies, anthropology, biological sciences, chemistry, communicative disorders, criminology and criminal justice, communication studies, education studies in psychology, journalism and creative media, mathematics, music, research methodology and counseling, English, geological sciences, history, New College, philosophy, physics and astronomy, psychology, theatre  and dance and religious studies.

Learn more about the series at evolution.ua.edu.

The ALLELE lecture series is part of UA’s College of Arts and Sciences, the University’s largest division and the largest liberal arts college in the state. Students from the College have won numerous national awards including Truman, Rhodes and Goldwater scholarships.

The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.