Te gast – A peek into the brain. How neuroscience helps society

Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour

A better knowledge of the brain, leads to better knowledge of society. Understanding the gigantic network of neurons provides us with views on the way children learn and how to keep our body and mind healthy. Matching brains with computers results in new options for neuroscience and advanced technology, prompting ethical questions along the way.

In five short talks, five neuroscientists of the Donders Institute in Nijmegen provide insights on five branches of brain research. Between the talks there is room for questions and discussion. Marloes ten Kate will host the evening.

We are used to acquire knowledge at school, obtain a diploma, find a job and live happily ever after. Those days are over: in a rapidly changing world we have to keep up to date constantly. To foster life-long learning, education should focus on Motivation, Self-regulation and Creativity. Harold Bekkering pleads to abandon the current school system that creates unmotivated, non-creative students, focused on exams. He advocates a system where pupils define their own goals and how to achieve those. As a result, the next generation can find a place in society that fits their needs and talents.

We think with our brain, independent of our body, right? But what if our gut bacteria affect brain functioning and behavior? And we change these bacteria with our diet? What if a fast food diet and obesity predict brain disease later in life? Esther Aarts argues that a healthy body is crucial for a healthy brain. By optimizing our diet, we can take care of the microbes in our intestines, counteract elevated inflammation levels in our body, and provide the right conditions and nutrients for our brain to thrive.

At first sight, the world of art and culture and the world of medicine could not be more different. Yet, Bas Bloem argues that these two worlds are actually closely intertwined, and perhaps even inseparable. Just like other historical couples who at first sight appeared to be an unusual duo, but who in effect were highly successful (think of Romeo and Juliette), he will explain that a closer collaboration between art and medicine could help to improve the future of care for our patients.

How are we able to play football, find a light switch in a dark room, interact with our surroundings? Fleur Zeldenrust will argue that the only way to understand what calculations the brain has to do in order to perform such complex tasks, is by regarding it as a computer and measuring how information flows. She will explore the hardware of the brain: networks of neurons and their connections. How can we do calculations with biological hardware?

Artificial intelligence outperforms humans in a growing number of domains. The hunt for a general superintelligence has started. But why are we so focused on improving our own intelligence? Pim Haselager suggests that the most urgent problems facing us today do not arise out of a lack of intelligence, but a lack of ethics. Instead of developing systems that make us richer or stronger, we should develop systems that help to improve our ethical feelings, thoughts and actions. Isn’t it time for super-ethics, instead of super-intelligence?

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