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Jan Lauwereyns

Jan Lauwereyns is Professor in the Graduate School of Systems Life Sciences at Kyushu University in Japan and Adjunct Research Associate in the School of Psychology at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. A scientist, poet, and essayist, he is the author of The Anatomy of Bias: How Neural Circuits Weigh the Options (MIT Press, 2010) and other books.

Titles by This Author

On the Active Boundaries of Vision

How do we gain access to things as they are? Although we routinely take our self-made pictures to be veridical representations of reality, in actuality we choose (albeit unwittingly) or construct what we see. By movements of the eyes, the direction of our gaze, we create meaning. In Brain and the Gaze, Jan Lauwereyns offers a novel reformulation of perception and its neural underpinnings, focusing on the active nature of perception.

In his investigation of active perception and its brain mechanisms, Lauwereyns offers the gaze as the principal paradigm for perception. In a radically integrative account, grounded in neuroscience but drawing on insights from philosophy and psychology, he discusses the dynamic and constrained nature of perception; the complex information processing at the level of the retina; the active nature of vision; the intensive nature of representations; the gaze of others as visual stimulus; and the intentionality of vision and consciousness. An engaging point of entry to the cognitive neuroscience of perception, written for neuroscientists but illuminated by insights from thinkers ranging from William James to Slavoj Žižek, Brain and the Gaze will give new impetus to research and theory in the field.

How Neural Circuits Weigh the Options

I will recklessly endeavor to scavenge materials from these various fields with the single aim of producing a coherent, but open-minded account of attention, or bias versus sensitivity, or how the activities of neurons allow us to decide one way or another that, with a faint echo of Hamlet in the background, something appears to be or not to be.—from The Anatomy of Bias.

In this engaging, even lyrical, book, Jan Lauwereyns examines the neural underpinnings of decision-making, using "bias" as his core concept rather than the more common but noncommittal terms "selection" and "attention." Lauwereyns offers an integrative, interdisciplinary account of the structure and function of bias, which he defines as a basic brain mechanism that attaches different weights to different information sources, prioritizing some cognitive representations at the expense of others. Lauwereyns introduces the concepts of bias and sensitivity based on notions from Bayesian probability, which he translates into easily recognizable neural signatures, introduced by concrete examples from the experimental literature. He examines, among other topics, positive and negative motivations for giving priority to different sensory inputs, and looks for the neural underpinnings of racism, sexism, and other forms of "familiarity bias." Lauwereyns—a poet and essayist as well as a scientist—connects findings and ideas in neuroscience to analogous concepts in such diverse fields as post-Lacanian psychoanalysis, literary theory, philosophy of mind, evolutionary psychology, and experimental economics. With The Anatomy of Bias, he gives readers that rarity in today's world of proliferating and ever more narrowly focused technical research papers: a work of sustained, rational thinking, elegantly expressed.