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Wolf Singer

Wolf Singer is Director at the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt and Founding Director of both the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies and the Ernst Strüngmann Institute for Brain Research.

Titles by This Editor

From Neurons to Mind

A fundamental shift is occurring in neuroscience and related disciplines. In the past, researchers focused on functional specialization of the brain, discovering complex processing strategies based on convergence and divergence in slowly adapting anatomical architectures. Yet for the brain to cope with ever-changing and unpredictable circumstances, it needs strategies with richer interactive short-term dynamics. Recent research has revealed ways in which the brain effectively coordinates widely distributed and specialized activities to meet the needs of the moment. This book explores these findings, examining the functions, mechanisms, and manifestations of distributed dynamical coordination in the brain and mind across different species and levels of organization. The book identifies three basic functions of dynamic coordination: contextual disambiguation, dynamic grouping, and dynamic routing. It considers the role of dynamic coordination in temporally structured activity and explores these issues at different levels, from synaptic and local circuit mechanisms to macroscopic system dynamics, emphasizing their importance for cognition, behavior, and psychopathology.

Contributors: Evan Balaban, György Buzsáki, Nicola S. Clayton, Maurizio Corbetta, Robert Desimone, Kamran Diba, Shimon Edelman, Andreas K. Engel, Yves Fregnac, Pascal Fries, Karl Friston, Ann Graybiel, Sten Grillner, Uri Grodzinski, John-Dylan Haynes, Laurent Itti, Erich D. Jarvis, Jon H. Kaas, J.A. Scott Kelso, Peter König, Nancy J. Kopell, Ilona Kovács, Andreas Kreiter, Anders Lansner, Gilles Laurent, Jörg Lücke, Mikael Lundqvist, Angus MacDonald, Kevan Martin, Mayank Mehta, Lucia Melloni, Earl K. Miller, Bita Moghaddam, Hannah Monyer, Edvard I. Moser, May-Britt Moser, Danko Nikolic, William A. Phillips, Gordon Pipa, Constantin Rothkopf, Terrence J. Sejnowski, Steven M. Silverstein, Wolf Singer, Catherine Tallon-Baudry, Roger D. Traub, Jochen Triesch, Peter Uhlhaas, Christoph von der Malsburg, Thomas Weisswange, Miles Whittington, Matthew Wilson

Decision Making, the Human Mind, and Implications for Institutions

Conscious control enables human decision makers to override routines, to exercise willpower, to find innovative solutions, to learn by instruction, to decide collectively, and to justify their choices. These and many more advantages, however, come at a price: the ability to process information consciously is severely limited and conscious decision makers are liable to hundreds of biases. Measured against the norms of rational choice theory, conscious decision makers perform poorly. But if people forego conscious control, in appropriate tasks, they perform surprisingly better: they handle vast amounts of information; they update prior information; they find appropriate solutions to ill-defined problems.

This inaugural Strüngmann Forum Report explores the human ability to make decisions, consciously as well as without conscious control. It explores decision-making strategies, including deliberate and intuitive; explicit and implicit; processing information serially and in parallel, with a general-purpose apparatus, or with task-specific neural subsystems. The analysis is at four levels—neural, psychological, evolutionary, and institutional—and the discussion is extended to the definition of social problems and the design of better institutional interventions. The results presented differ greatly from what could be expected under standard rational choice theory and deviate even more from the alternate behavioral view of institutions. New challenges emerge (for example, the issue of free will) and some purported social problems almost disappear if one adopts a more adequate model of human decision making.