This course is an attempt at demystifying the brain, and discussing some (but certainly not all) of the wonderful functions that this pound of flesh allows!
A course for children in Grades 8-12.
The brain is perhaps the most complex physical object known to mankind. It is responsible for “elementary” behaviors such as walking, more “complex” processes such as learning and memory, and is, arguably, the seat of consciousness. This course is an attempt at demystifying the brain, and discussing some (but certainly not all) of the wonderful functions that this pound of flesh allows.
We will start with some foundational principles that relate to the structure and signaling in the brain. We will take a close look at neurons, the basic structural and functional units within the nervous system. We will marvel at the diversity of neuron types, and examine how they come together to form circuits that perform computations. We will then discuss the electrical and chemical signals through which communication occurs within these circuits.
Having laid a foundation, we will move on to discuss how different circuits come together to form systems. We will examine the systems that allow us to sense the world around us (vision, touch and pain) and how these sensations contribute to our beliefs about the world. We will then examine the movement system – the one that allows us to interact with our world and change it. We will look at building blocks of movement within the spinal cord and go all the way to evolutionarily newer areas of the brain that shape how we make decisions about movement.
The next part of the course takes aim at more complex functions – those of learning and memory. We will look at how people learn, how things are stored in short term memory and also how they are retained for the long-haul. We will also discuss how learning and remembering skills (such as learning to ride a bicycle) is different from declarative learning (learning a list of things to buy at the grocery store), and look at regions of the brain that enable these functions.
We then move on to understanding what happens when things start going wrong in the brain. We will discuss diseases and disorders such as Stroke, Parkinson’s disease, Schizophrenia and a few more. These disorders will serve as a reality check and reveal how much we still don’t know about the brain.
Finally, we will ask how we can use neuroscientific knowledge to build robots and machines that think and act like we do. Can we indeed build artificial brains? Can we get the suite of cognitive functions that humans have from a different kind of matter, one that is not biological? We may end with a discussion on ethical considerations when trying to artificially build intelligent machines.
The course will be pitched at a level appropriate for high school students, and will include many historical tidbits, fun examples, vivid images, and clinical cases. These are the broad topics that will be covered in the course-
1. Basics – structure and signaling
2. Senses and Perception
3. Learning, Memory and Language
5. Diseases and Disorders
6. Building Artificial Brains