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June 22, 2004

Brain Science Research Pioneer to Explore the Nature of the Mind at MBL Special Lecture, June 30

WOODS HOLE, MA—The Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) is proud to present Dr. Rodolfo Llinás as the inaugural speaker in a new distinguished lectureship on mind, brain, and human experience co-sponsored by long-time MBL friend Marius Robinson, an MBL alumnus and current member of the MBL Council of Visitors.

In his talk, titled Of Neurons, Networks and Cognition: Is Subjectivity Beyond Science?, Dr. Llinás, a pioneer in modern brain science, will present an original view of the evolution and nature of mind. The lecture will take place on Wednesday, June 30 at 8:00 PM in the MBL's Lillie Auditorium, located on MBL Street in Woods Hole. The presentation is free and open to the public.

According to Llinás, as described in his 2001 book I of the Vortex: From Neurons to Self, the "mindness state" evolved to allow predictive interactions between mobile creatures and their environment. To move through the environment safely, a creature must anticipate the outcome of each movement on the basis of incoming sensory data. Thus the capacity to predict is most likely the ultimate brain function. One could even say that Self is the centralization of prediction.

At the heart of Llinás's theory is the concept of oscillation. Many neurons possess electrical activity, manifested as oscillating variations in the minute voltages across the cell membrane. On the crests of these oscillations occur larger electrical events that are the basis for neuron-to-neuron communication. Like cicadas chirping in unison, a group of neurons oscillating in phase can resonate with a distant group of neurons. This simultaneity of neuronal activity is the neurobiological root of cognition. Although the internal state that we call the mind is guided by the senses, it is also generated by the oscillations within the brain. Thus, in a certain sense, one could say that reality is not all "out there," but is a kind of virtual reality.

Dr. Llinás is professor and chairman of the Department of Physiology and Neuroscience and the Thomas & Suzanne Murphy Professor of Neuroscience at New York University School of Medicine. Born in Columbia, he received his M.D. from the Universidad Javeriana in Bogota in 1959. He then moved to Australia as a research scholar at the Australian National University from which he received his Ph.D. in 1965. He subsequently came to the United States as associate professor at the University of Minnesota.

From 1966 to 1970 Llinás was on the staff of the Institute for Biomedical Research of the American Medical Association Education and Research Foundation in Chicago. During that time he also held faculty positions at Northwestern University Medical School, Wayne State University School of Medicine, and the University of Illinois College of Medicine. In 1970 Llinás became professor of physiology and biophysics at the University of Iowa Medical School. He has been professor and chairman of the Department of Neuroscience at New York University School of Medicine since 1976 and the Thomas & Suzanne Murphy Professor of Neuroscience since 1985. Llinás is a long-time MBL summer investigator and Corporation member and served on the Laboratory’s Board of Trustees from 1983 to 1985 and again from 1990 to 1992. In addition, he served as faculty in the MBL’s Physiology Course from 1971 to 1974.

Llinás has had a long and distinguished career researching brain function all the way from the level of single nerve cells, to circuits of connected cells, to the functioning of the entire brain. Some of Llinás' major research contributions have included pioneering studies of synaptic function in the giant synapse of squid and of how networks of neurons generate complex electrical activity patterns. Llinas has an impressive publication record of papers, books, and book chapters. He is a member of several professional societies including the National Academy of Sciences, the Columbian National Academy of Medicine, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In addition, he has received numerous honors and awards over he course of his career.

The Marine Biological Laboratory is an internationally known, independent, nonprofit institution dedicated to improving the human condition through creative research and education in the biological, biomedical and environmental sciences. Founded in 1888, the MBL is the oldest private marine laboratory in the Western Hemisphere.