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Medical Knowing more about the discipline of mathematical neuroscience

  1. Dec 18, 2011 #1
    I've been looking for curriculum (e.g. classes needed) for mathematical/theoretical neuroscience but with no success. Math, physics, and neuroscience are some of my prime interests, but I have no idea on how to go about thinking if I should pursue theoretical neuroscience instead of theoretical physics. Of course, I was hoping that looking at the curricula of theoretical neuroscience would shed some light but that has turned fruitless. In addition, theoretical neuroscience is not mentioned in bureau of labor statistics [or anywhere online to my knowledge]; which would have helped me to learn more of their work environment and average weekly work time among other things.

    Can anyone start shedding some light? I've always been keenly interested in neuroscience but need a good push in the right direction. My attempt of learning more of this discipline has been rather pitiful.
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  3. Dec 19, 2011 #2
    Bump.. someone please help. This field has been very vague to me. Its probably a very new sub-sub discipline..
  4. Dec 19, 2011 #3


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    Are you more interested in neurons or brains. A first big decision perhaps.

    Physics is not especially useful as an entry qualification - biology or medicine would be more traditional paths. But a facility with mathematical modelling would of course be good. You just need to work out what kind of modelling approaches will buy you a future career.

    So you could come from a computer science modelling angle, or a dynamical one, for example. Or try to combine the best of both, as is currently the state of the art.

    If you are worried about working hours, neuroscience tends to follow the medical model - ridiculously long. And most true neuroscience involves being good in the lab more than being good with spinning theories.

    If you don't actually like lab work/real biology, then getting into computer science, neural networks and artificial intelligence may be more like what you imagine as "theoretical neuroscience" as a career.
  5. Dec 19, 2011 #4


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    Who have you read that you consider a mathematical neuroscientist? What journals do they publish in? Why don't you see what programmes are available at the institutions of the authors in those journals?

    As an example, I read an interesting article by Kouh and Poggio in Neural Computation. I googled Kouh and found that he did that as a physics graduate student at MIT. So you could contact MIT physics and ask whether it is possible to do mathematical neuroscience as a sub-discipline of physics there. It looks like they have at least one faculty member who does a lot of neurobiology. Interestingly, Kouh's co-author, Poggio is not listed in MIT physics, so it seems the department can be quite flexible.
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2011
  6. Dec 19, 2011 #5
    How do I know if I'm more interested in neurons than brains? To me the brain is a collection of neurons and are the same thing. I'm not terribly interested in learning things along the approach of behavioral psychology and social psychology; I'm slightly more interested in knowing things from a fundamental perspective.

    It is very hard to think about making this transition, I've completely indulged myself with the thought of physics and mathematics that its almost a part of my identity. Perhaps I should take physics to around quantum field theory to see how physics feels to me while simultaneously taking biology classes?

    Mathematical/dynamical angles attract me more.
    What does it mean to be good in the lab as opposed to being with theorizing? And around how many hours are we talking about? At some point I accepted that as a physicist there will probably be around 60 hour work weeks [that is probably a minimum]. I mean, long work hours don't scare me as long as I love what I do and there is intellectual stimulation; but on the other hand I love many things in life and I'm kind of a romantic. Aside from it being something that has always appealed to me, part of the reason I started thinking about neuroscience is because I was under the disbelief that they work less hours than physicist. I was attracted to something that would give me more time for other life aspects.

    I think part of the reason that I wanted to enter Neuroscience is because I've always had an appreciation for our immensely complex machinery; and I find beauty in that. But it might be misplaced, and I'm trying really hard to figure if I would like this type of thing or not.. Personally, I love the big questions; things such as consciousness intrigue me. But that train of thought sounds highly fanboy-ish and uncorrelated to what everyday neuroscientists work on..

    I like the idea of neural networks and artificial intelligence. But then again I don't know too much about myself in this area, the only computer science classes that I took was Fortran in college and a bit of [rather basic] True BASIC in high school.
  7. Dec 19, 2011 #6
    This is for apeiron and atyy, perhaps this would help pinpoint where my interest lies.

    Things that I would find interesting to research on are some of the relatively intangible questions of today. Things such as what is curiosity? How do we learn? What is consciousness? How do we make sense of the world around us [such as object recognition]?

    From that synopsis of my interest, would you conclude that my interest is rather misplaced and fan-boy like?

    I didn't think about learning more about it from there. Thanks.
    One problem is that I don't really understand what they are talking about. The most that I would get out of such an article would be the mathematical modeling of neural activity.

    Thanks for the links! What poggio works on is very interesting to me actually. I don't think I should contact MIT physics at the moment because my education at this point is quite premature and abysmal. I've failed to mention that at the moment the caliber of my education stands at Calculus I, Physics I, and Intro to Psychology.
  8. Dec 20, 2011 #7


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    Yeah, definitely misplaced. Those are not intangibles, they have been solved http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6FNE4MnQ3QU&feature=youtu.be :tongue2:

    (I haven't heard that lecture, but Grossberg is famous.)

    Here's more stuff that may be helpful as google search seeds (I think these are all free).
    http://othermind.net/papers/computation/internalmodel.pdf [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  9. Dec 20, 2011 #8


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    It's amazing what's online these days!

    If you like Grossberg, here is a great interview about his career (and the perils of being too far ahead of your time).

    Nano might like to read it too for its description of what the actual life of a most brilliant scientist is like (and why the best end up bitter and twisted :smile:).

    http://pcl.tuke.sk/kopco/w/chpt8.pdf [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  10. Dec 20, 2011 #9
    Thank you so much for sharing these links and Grossberg's interview; I haven't got the chance to read them but the last article "Robots With Internal Models a Route to Machine Consciousness?" by Owen Holland and Rod Goodman seems very interesting. I've always been interested in the idea of engineering a brain because it seems to really challenge our knowledge of the brain [and it has been].

    Also it is hard for me to accept that the problem of consciousness has been completely solved at a fundamental level. Are you sure? Perhaps it is "solved" but at a fundamental level.. hmm I would wonder.

    This is random, but as I was just relaxing by the water today [one of my favorite activity], a high interest resurfaced in me; and that is the the study of our sensory input and how we perceive the world around us.. things such as our retinal organ and how it constitutes reality around us.

    Thanks for sharing the link of his interview.. it was amazing! Not only was it very interesting but it also really influenced me as a consequence! I've always been too afraid to step out of the study of physics and mathematics even though I knew I also loved neuroscience and biology.. but Grossberg showed me not to be afraid and to study what you want; its part of the fun!

    "Stephen Grossberg [1] is a cognitive scientist, neuroscientist, biomedical engineer, mathematician, and neuromorphic technologist." ~ Wikipedia

    I wonder how he got so many degrees.. but I suppose it was different back then and everything now seems to be highly specialized. I presume that is why I've always been afraid to step out of the boundary of math and physics.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  11. Dec 20, 2011 #10
  12. Dec 20, 2011 #11


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    Hmmm, did you see my :tongue2: indicating not to take me too seriously?

    Anyway, the "big questions" question is too broad for me to answer. I'd be happy to suggest more google search seeds, but I think it's best to make your own big question.
  13. Dec 20, 2011 #12
    Hahah.. whoops. I perceived it to be more of a taunt as in "hahh we solved them already! :tongue2: Your too late to work on these interesting questions. "

    I found some very interesting questions:

    I like the ones that has to do with learning, memory, perceptions, and decisions. Does it sound like mathematical neuroscience would suit me?
  14. Dec 20, 2011 #13


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    Those topics are being approached from many angles, some utilizing mathematics, some not. I don't think anybody can judge whether it is a fit for you; you really have to keep investigating these things and see how you react long-term; whether your interest wanes or not.

    I've always been one to jump from interest to interest, so I've been very cautious; but so far my flame has kept burning towards a mathematical neuroscience career.
  15. Dec 20, 2011 #14
    What can I investigate to know if this is a fit for me or not? I need someone to put me in the right direction. Perhaps taking more biology-related classes will help?

    I'm interested, from what interest to what interest have you been jumping too? And why is it that your flame burns more toward a mathematical neuroscience career?
  16. Dec 20, 2011 #15


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    You're already investigating, but is'a really young and diverse field so it will take some time to absorb and differentiate all the different views and language. Just keep at it.

    I think some popular pedagogical approaches out there are:

    Dynamical Systems in Neuroscience (Izhikevich)
    Mathematical Foundations of Neuroscience (Ermentrout and Terman)
    Theoretical Neuroscience (Dayan and Abbot)
    Handbook of Brain Theory and Neural Networks (Arbib)
    From Molecules to Networks (John & John)

    I myself have not read much of these thoroughly, and some I've only heard of. I took a class with Molecules to Networks and I did spend the most time on Izhikevich's geometrical approach. But mostly, I have a geometer adviser that is interested in biological systems applications. So I have spent time actually employing the models

    Mathematical Neuroscience in general is broader than my expertise (I have heard Izhikevich's book called idiosynchratic more than once).

    As for classes, assuming you don't have a theoretical/computaitonal program, then you are in a similar position as me:

    I have an undergrad in Physics

    Graduate Classes I've taken:
    Molecular Neuroscience

    (not near as quantitative as any of my math/physics classes ever were though):

    Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos by Strogatz
    Differential Equations, Calculus.

    I am only able to integrate my biology and physics because of the broader internet community, and the books I mentioned above which gives me access to what other universities are doing.
  17. Dec 20, 2011 #16
    I've seen some of those books recommended before, unfortunately they are well above my level of study. I guess my best option is to take classes and see how I feel about them. Looking up articles and the such doesn't seem to be helping too much at the moment, it isn't a good indicator of whether you will like the field or not in my opinion. Because if that was the case, then I would like every field due to my diverse interests.
  18. Dec 20, 2011 #17


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    Then I think just a basic cell biology and neurobiology class, a classical mechanics class, and the supporting math:

    differential equations, calculus, probability and statistics.

    These are the building blocks that will help you understand those books.
  19. Dec 20, 2011 #18
    At the moment I've taken

    Physics I
    Calculus I
    Intro to Psychology

    Next semester will be [in terms of math & physics]
    Physics II
    Calculus II

    At the moment I'm not planning to take biology and chemistry classes because I'm at a community college and the non-major credits won't transfer once I go into Rutgers Brunswick [pretty sure I want to go there at the moment and confident I'll be accepted]. What would your advice be on this? Take the classes anyways or just wait till I transfer to a university?

    And what are the prerequisites of neurobiology?
  20. Dec 21, 2011 #19


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    I think you'll be able to handle basic neurobiology just fine. You may have to play a little catch up, but I don't expect it to be too serious. All the neuroscience courses I've taken had prerequisites, but my physics degree was enough to convince the neuribio teacher to let me in and the neurobio class along with the physics degree got me into the rest of the classes.

    So far, you seem to be on the same track as I was. I did not take any fundamental biology and only basic chemistry classes. I do, however, study a lot of biology on my own. I'm fascinated by it at many levels (abiogenesis, evo/devo, unicellular to multicellular transition, neurogenetics).
  21. Dec 21, 2011 #20
    Most computational/mathematical neuroscience PhDs specifically ask for people with backgrounds in physics, mathematics and computer science. Having said this, I don't think that the level of maths required to do computational neuroscience is especially high. You will find linear algebra, differential equations and probability very useful. Techniques from dynamical systems and statistical physics are sometimes used but you don't necessarily need a background in those subjects.
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