Does the Brain Need a Body to be a Brain?

An International Workshop organized by the Neurorobotics Subproject of the HBP

Neuroscience research is learning more and more about the details of how the brain works. Biologically plausible artificial neural networks attempt to simulate brain functioning, and detailed computer simulations of parts of the brain exist, producing results that conform to experimental data from real brains. However, can attempts to simulate the workings of the brain ever be successful unless the simulation includes at its core interaction between the brain and the body that it controls? Scientists and philosophers have speculated about the feasibility of a ‘brain in a vat‘, one disconnected from the world, except for outputs that enable external monitoring or inputs such as electrical simulation. While such a brain would function, in the sense that it would respond to stimuli and its own network connectivity would by itself produce complex patterns of activity – useful for understanding how the connectivity works – would this be anything whatsoever like a real brain, or just a machine, a black-box where a set of inputs results in a set of outputs? The Neurorobotics Sub-Project of the Human Brain Project attempts to provide robotic bodies for simulated brains. This approach is not only of great scientific value, but also reaches for a radically new way to design robot intelligence.

This workshop brings together experts from within and outside the Human Brain Project to discuss the relationship between brain and body from the point of view of philosophy, neuroscience, computer science, engineering and robotics. Each topic will be introduced by an expert in the field followed by debate and discussion. 

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