Blog Post

Cognitive Neuroscience Society Annual Meeting

Hello, My name is Ian and I am blogging about my trip to the Cognitive Neuroscience Society Annual Meeting for my course ISIS 120 taught by Cathy Davidson. Theres 15 minutes left of the 4 day conference and Im crouched in a corner where I managed to find some wifi in the conference hall in Montreal. This was my first scientific conference and I was excited, impressed, and a little overwhelmed with the process. Cognitive Neuroscience, sometimes jokingly called empirical philosophy, aims to understand psychological constructs such as attention, learning, memory, language, perception, and decision making using experimental (fMRI, EEG, ERP, DTI, TMS, etc) computational, and pharmacological methodologies. The conference consisted of 9 two hour poster sessions (each with about a hundred posters), slide sessions (15 minute presentations of data), symposia (2 hour presentations by several people about a single topic), and guest lectures. The data overload left me at the end of the day feeling like I had taken back-to-back SATs, but I am left now with a satisfaction and respect for the scientific process. It is easy for a researcher to get swept up in the conflicts and specifics of his or her subfield, and while people preferentially visit relevant talks and posters, the conference prodded many people out of their comfort zone. By combining the expertise and genius of leaders of different fields, fascinating discussions began to emerge about how the brain may function on a more global level. Cognitive science is moving away from blob science, where scientists stuck people in MRI machines and said something like this region does intelligence and faces but not houses and sticks. We are in an age of interaction, where scientists are using meta-analysis and advanced statistical tools borrowed from the social and economic sciences to understand how the brain operates as a set of interacting systems. There are strong emerging battle calls for free and easily accessible full data sets, rather than a restricted publication of specific aspects of data. As technology advances, neuroscientists are increasingly able to analyze vast amounts of data from many different experimental paradigms and develop a more subtle understanding of the networks involved in cognition. I am left with the sense that we are on the edge of a second cognitive revolution, where data sharing and massively powerful analysis techniques eliminate the barriers between, say, learning and memory and decision-making. Furthermore, conferences like these force scientists to make their findings accessible to people who dont understand their particular subfield or methodology in detail. This opens the doors to the non-scientific community to participate in the assembly of knowledge that occurs at these conferences. I encourage anyone interested in cognitive neuroscience to attend next years CNS or any number of other conferences. -Ian Ballard


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