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Neuroscience, AI, and Society Seminar: Peter Sterling
WhenTuesday, Feb 18, 2020, 5 – 6 p.m.
Campus locationWilliam H. Foege Genome Sciences (GNOM)
Campus roomS060
Event typesLectures/Seminars

What is Health? allostasis and the evolution of human design

Human design is constrained by natural selection to maximize performance for a given energy
cost. The brain predicts what will be needed and controls metabolism, physiology, and behavior to
deliver just enough, just in time. Predictive control (allostasis) is a core function that requires rapid
and efficient computations by the whole brain to guide its tiny effector (the hypothalamus). Our
survival in challenging environments required a brain designed to improve foraging skills over
decades (ages 20-45). Learning is driven by an optimal rule that rewards each unexpected positive result with a pulse of dopamine, which we experience as a pulse of satisfaction. But our recent “success” that provides sustained food and comfort, reduced opportunities for positive surprise, thus depriving us of the dopamine pulses upon which rest the whole edifice of behavioral regulation and mood. Lacking dopamine pulses, we grow uncomfortable and are driven to seek new sources. One route is through consumption: more food and drugs that produce great surges of dopamine. But the surprise that follows more can only be still more. Moreover, physiological systems adapt to more by reducing their sensitivities, which drives our systems into damaging spirals. Standard medicine promotes drugs to treat addictions by blocking the reward circuit. But
strategies to prevent satisfaction cannot work. Standard economics promotes “growth” for more
“jobs”. But economic growth drives climate change, and “jobs” devoid of long-term challenge are
what now drive us to despair. To restore planetary and bodily health, we must re-expand
opportunities for small satisfactions via challenging activities and thereby rescue the reward system from its pathological regime.

Reception to follow


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