In praise of Ernesto Hamburger, NeuroMat’s first dissemination team leader

by Fernando da Paixão

Moving brain theory along mathematical simplicity and biological plausibility

Mathematical simplicity and biological plausibility. The combining of these two axes is at the core of the inception and development of FAPESP’s Research, Innovation and Dissemination Center for Neuromathematics (RIDC NeuroMat). “Without biology, mathematicians can at most generate nice models, that could have internal coherence, but remain absolutely useless to provide a conceptual framework for neuroscience. Without mathematics, neuroscientists are unable to move to a higher level of abstraction and could fall into the trap of driving all their scientific power to gather minute details that have little to inform to a systemic understanding of neural nets,” said NeuroMat’s coordinator, Antonio Galves.

Towards a collaborative network in brain science

The workshop “High-Performance Computing, Stochastic Modeling and Databases in Neuroscience,” that FAPESP's Research, Innovation and Dissemination Center for Neuromathematics (RIDC NeuroMat) held in the last week of April, was an occasion for strengthening ties among brain-science international consortia. Specifically, this event contributed to engaging NeuroMat’s technology-transfer team within the network that is facilitated by the International Neuroinformatics Coordinating Facility (INCF) with the forthcoming creation of creation of an INCF Special Interest Group on “stochastic modeling and statistical analysis of neural systems” and a formal collaboration with the INCF Program on Standards for Data Sharing, particularly with a task force on electrophysiology and on neuroimaging. INCF’s scientific director Sean Hill attended NeuroMat’s workshop and gave a talk on computational challenges of understanding the brain.

A mathematical framework for neuroscience: NeuroMat hosts event of large international brain initiatives

According to the International Neuroinformatics Coordinating Facility (INCF), the current large-scale international brain initiatives are from the USA (the BRAIN Initiative and the Allen Institute), Europe (Human Brain Project), Japan (Brain/MINDS), Israel (IBT), Republic of Korea (Korea Brain Research Institute), China (China Brain) and Australia (AusBrain). Therefore, there are no internationally recognized Brazilian brain projects, not even Latin-american projects.

NeuroMat’s web-2.0 dissemination: towards an integrated wiki strategy

Almost simultaneously readers of the scholar journal Scientific Reports and the Portuguese and English editions of the electronic encyclopaedia Wikipedia had access to the same finding: the relationship between predictability and reaction time is sigmoid, not linear. This finding goes in contrast to what is known as Hick’s Law, a theory on the time a person takes to make a decision as a function of the possibilities that this person faces: more specifically, it is traditionally stated that the reaction time increases as a linear function of the log of the number of alternatives. On March 15, 2016, NeuroMat member André Frazão Helene and colleagues published "On Sequence Learning Models: Open-loop Control Not Strictly Guided by Hick’s Law,” on Scientific Reports, that on March 21 led to a full rewriting of the Portuguese Wikipedia entry on "Lei de Hick" and the incorporation of a section on "Exceptions to Hick's Law” on the English Wikipedia, on March 24. Modifications on the encyclopaedia were in strict accordance with findings in the new scholar publication.

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