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Simon Laughlin

Simon Laughlin is Professor of Neurobiology in the Department of Zoology at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Titles by This Author

Neuroscience research has exploded, with more than fifty thousand neuroscientists applying increasingly advanced methods. A mountain of new facts and mechanisms has emerged. And yet a principled framework to organize this knowledge has been missing. In this book, Peter Sterling and Simon Laughlin, two leading neuroscientists, strive to fill this gap, outlining a set of organizing principles to explain the whys of neural design that allow the brain to compute so efficiently.

Setting out to “reverse engineer” the brain—disassembling it to understand it—Sterling and Laughlin first consider why an animal should need a brain, tracing computational abilities from bacterium to protozoan to worm. They examine bigger brains and the advantages of “anticipatory regulation”; identify constraints on neural design and the need to “nanofy”; and demonstrate the routes to efficiency in an integrated molecular system, phototransduction. They show that the principles of neural design at finer scales and lower levels apply at larger scales and higher levels; describe neural wiring efficiency; and discuss learning as a principle of biological design that includes “save only what is needed.”

Sterling and Laughlin avoid speculation about how the brain might work and endeavor to make sense of what is already known. Their distinctive contribution is to gather a coherent set of basic rules and exemplify them across spatial and functional scales.

Titles by This Editor

Exploring the Integrative Study of Work in Living Systems

The work performed by living systems ranges from photosynthesis to prodigious feats of computation and organization. This multidisciplinary volume explores the relationships between work and the study of work across many different levels of organization. By addressing how work gets done, and why, from the perspectives of a range of disciplines, including cell and evolutionary biology, neuroscience, psychology, electrical and computer engineering, and design, the volume sets out to establish an integrative approach to the study of work.Chapters introduce the biological work of producing energy in the cell; establish inherent tradeoffs between energy and information in neural systems; relate principles of integrated circuit manufacture to work in biological systems; explore the work of photosynthesis; investigate how work shapes organisms’ evolutionary niches; consider the human work of design; describe the effects of job satisfaction and dissatisfaction on work-life balance; and address the effects of environmental challenges (stress) on how humans and animals do work. Finally, editors and contributors draw these studies together and point to future developments.Contributors Alan Blackwell, Gillian Brown, Christina De La Rocha, Kevin Laland, Simon Laughlin, Robert Levin, Michael Lightner, Steven Maier, Joseph Rosse, Stacy Saturay