Universiteit Leiden

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A dialogue on neuroscience, culture, and cognition

  • Jean-Pierre Changeux
  • Randy Gallistel
Tuesday 11 December 2018
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden

"When I ask myself this vast question: ‘what makes humans into humans?’, I find that there is human culture on the one hand, and the human genome on the other, that much is obvious. But what are the genetic limits of culture? What is its genetic unit? We know absolutely nothing about it. And that is too bad, because it is the most captivating and the most fundamental problem of all." Jacques Monod, ‘de Homine’, Rivista dell’istituto di Filosofia, Roma 53-54, 1975, p. 131 (our translation)

43 years after Jacques Monod’s observation, the central question that he formulated remains unanswered. What is the relationship between biology and culture, and what does it tell us about the relation between neuroscience, culture, and cognition? Jean-Pierre Changeux's analysis in terms of epigenesis and Randy Gallistel's radical computational view provide us with two different perspectives of how neuroscience and cognitive science interact, and how the brain represents and acts on the external world. This dialogue is organized in the context of the NWO-sponsored Horizon project Knowledge and culture. It continues the conversation started during two Lorentz Center Workshops organized by Johan Rooryck (Leiden) & Pierre Pica (ICE, Natal & CNRS) (Core knowledge, language and culture, Leiden University, 29 May–1 June 2012, and Tightening the articulation between language and number, 8–10 March 2016), in which both Jean-Pierre Changeux and Randy Gallistel participated.



Jean-Pierre Changeux (Institut Pasteur) is a French neurobiologist whose work has yielded crucial insights into several key issues in biology and on the nature and development of the nervous system.


Randy Gallistel (Rutgers) is an American psychologist whose work on the neurobiology of motivation and learning has provided new ways to explore the cellular and molecular basis of memory.


The debate is moderated by Virginie van Wassenhove (NeuroSpin) whose current work bears on temporal cognition and multisensory integration.


13.30-14.15: Jean Pierre Changeux
14.15-15.00: Randy Gallistel
15.00-16.00: Moderated dialogue
16.00-17.00: General discussion


Please register here

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