This course is about how the brain creates our sense of spatial location from a variety of sensory and motor sources, and how this spatial sense in turn shapes our cognitive abilities. Knowing where things are is effortless. But “under the hood,” your brain must figure out even the simplest of details about the world around you and your position in it.
Recognizing your mother, finding your phone, going to the grocery store, playing the banjo – these require careful sleuthing and coordination across different sensory and motor domains. This course traces the brain’s detective work to create this sense of space and argues that the brain’s spatial focus permeates our cognitive abilities, affecting the way we think and remember.
The course material overlaps with classes on perception or systems neuroscience, and can be taken either before or after such classes.
Course Introduction and Vision (Part 1)
This module contains an introduction to the course as a whole (Video 1.1) and an exploration of how our eyes detect light and deduce the location light is coming from (Videos 1.2-1.6). You'll also learn about how scientists from Democritus to Alhazen to Kepler figured this out. The final video for the module involves an experiment to test what happens when special goggles turn the world upside down (Video 1.7). I'll show experiments frequently throughout this course -- they are how we know what we know. This module’s quiz is ungraded and available to both auditors and certificate students. Consider it a sample of the style of question in the quizzes for the remaining modules, and an opportunity to determine if you’d like to pursue a certificate for this course.
Vision (Part 2), the Body, and Neural Signals
In this unit, we cover the visual scene in 3D - the many clues to depth. We then turn to body senses (position and touch) and how our brains detect the configuration of our own bodies. Along the way, we cover the resting membrane potential, the action potential, and how they arise. Finally, we bring vision and the body together, and throw some beanbags at a visual target while wearing prisms! This material is covered in Making Space, chapters 2 and 3.
Graded: Module 2 Quiz
In this unit, we turn to the brain and how it uses the spatial position of neurons within the brain to organize information about the spatial position of stimuli in the world (Making Space chapter 4). You'll learn about how we identify where one object ends and another begins, what a receptive field is, and how some neurons are sensitive to edges and the boundaries of objects. Maps occur in both visual cortex and body (somatosensory) cortex, and these maps may be responsible for various "phantom" sensations (examples from normal vision, patients with body part amputations, and electrical stimulation experiments).
Graded: Module 3 Quiz
Sound and Brain Representations
In module 4, we turn to the fascinating puzzle of how we deduce sound location--a process that requires quite a bit of detective work. Our brains piece together multiple types of clues, including subtle differences in timing, loudness, frequency content, and how sounds appear to change as we turn our heads. Because our ears don't form images of sounds, our brains don't have to use maps to encode sound location. The second half of the videos this module concern alternative forms of brain representation, how the brain translates between different types of representation, and what we know about brain representations for sound location. The material is covered in chapter 5, "Sherlock Ears" and chapter 6, "Moving with Maps and Meters", in Making Space. Be forewarned, there are about 70 minutes of video this module, as compared to previous modules' 50-60 minutes. After watching the full set, you'll see why these videos are grouped together as a unit. To make things more manageable, we've broken the quiz into two parts; that way, you can get feedback on one part before moving on to the next, if you like.
Graded: Module 4 Quiz - Part I
Graded: Module 4 Quiz - Part II
Reference Frames and Navigation
This module we turn to how spatial locations are defined, and discuss the concept of a reference frame. Initially, reference frames are quite different for visual, auditory, and somatosensory information. Visual location is defined with respect to the eyes, whereas sound locations are detected with respect to the head and ears, and tactile locations are detected based on body surface position. As you'll see, the brain transforms these signals into new reference frames to facilitate interactions between these sensory systems. We then consider space on a larger scale, and ask how we know where we are and how we navigate from one place to another. Knowledge of self-motion relies in part on the vestibular system, our sense of balance. The vestibular system works in concert with vision and motor systems to update our sense of position and keep us from getting lost. This module's material is covered in chapters 7, "Your Sunglasses Are in the Milky Way", and 8, "Going Places" of Making Space.
Graded: Module 5 Quiz
Memory and Cognition
In this final module of the course, we build several important links between the sense of space and other kinds of cognition. Videos 6.1-6.5 concern the relationship between space and memory. Memory is reflected in multiple different kinds of neural mechanisms and involves multiple brain regions. The memory and spatial functions of these mechanisms and brain regions overlap. Video 6.5 in particular features work by John O'Keefe concerning response patterns known as "place fields" in the hippocampus, and work by May-Britt and Edvard Moser concerning grid cells. This seminal work was recognized by the 2014 Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology. Videos 6.6-6.9 turn to thought more generally, and present a series of theories and experiments that suggest that the brain is actually using sensory and motor structures to think and reason. Thus, our brain systems for space may be engaged in a wide set of mental functions, which are shaped by the multiple purposes of this neural infrastructure. This module's material is covered in chapters 9, "Space and Memory", and 10, "Thinking about Thinking" of Making Space. I hope you enjoy this synthesis of all you have learned and what it means!
A human-centered approach to the fundamentals of cell biology with a focus on the power plants of the cell - mitochondria. The cell is a powerful case study to help us explore the functional logic of living systems. All organisms, from single-celled algae to complex multicellular organisms like us, are made up of cells. In this course, you will learn the how and why of biology by exploring the function of the molecular components of cells, and how these cellular components are organized in a complex hierarchy.
This course introduces how the human body works and how it is more than the sum of its parts. The human body is made up of many individual parts that work together in a highly interactive and coordinated way. This course introduces the building blocks that make up the body, and how these are structured and maintained at a cellular level. We highlight the cardiovascular, hormonal and nervous systems, as critical coordination and control parts of the body. We investigate the structure of the musculoskeletal system, and how it helps us move through, and manipulate, our environment. We conclude by reviewing how the body replaces itself to create a new human being.
This course introduces you to the basic biology of modern genomics and the experimental tools that we use to measure it. We'll introduce the Central Dogma of Molecular Biology and cover how next-generation sequencing can be used to measure DNA, RNA, and epigenetic patterns. You'll also get an introduction to the key concepts in computing and data science that you'll need to understand how data from next-generation sequencing experiments are generated and analyzed.
In this project-centered course* you will build a modern computer system, from the ground up. We’ll divide this fascinating journey into six hands-on projects that will take you from constructing elementary logic gates all the way through creating a fully functioning general purpose computer. In the process, you will learn - in the most direct and constructive way - how computers work, and how they are designed.
This course gives you easy access to the invaluable learning techniques used by experts in art, music, literature, math, science, sports, and many other disciplines. We’ll learn about the how the brain uses two very different learning modes and how it encapsulates (“chunks”) information. We’ll also cover illusions of learning, memory techniques, dealing with procrastination, and best practices shown by research to be most effective in helping you master tough subjects.
This course begins a series of classes illustrating the power of computing in modern biology. Please join us on the frontier of bioinformatics to look for hidden messages in DNA without ever needing to put on a lab coat.
Welcome to Memory and Movies. Someone once said that memory is fascinating because sometimes we forget what we want to remember, sometimes we remember what we want to forget, and sometimes we remember events that never happened or never happened the way we remember them. I want to show you how memory works, why it sometimes fails, and what we can do to enhance memory function, especially as we get older. Rather than covering all aspects of human memory, I will provide an introduction to the scientific study of memory by focusing on a select group of topics that hold widespread popular appeal.
Dog Emotion and Cognition will introduce you to the exciting new study of dog psychology, what the latest discoveries tell us about how dogs think and feel about us, and how we can use this new knowledge to further strengthen our relationship with our best friends.
Medical Neuroscience explores the functional organization and neurophysiology of the human central nervous system, while providing a neurobiological framework for understanding human behavior. In this course, you will discover the organization of the neural systems in the brain and spinal cord that mediate sensation, motivate bodily action, and integrate sensorimotor signals with memory, emotion and related faculties of cognition. The overall goal of this course is to provide the foundation for understanding the impairments of sensation, action and cognition that accompany injury, disease or dysfunction in the central nervous system. The course will build upon knowledge acquired through prior studies of cell and molecular biology, general physiology and human anatomy, as we focus primarily on the central nervous system.
Malaria, HIV/AIDS, Influenza, Measles - we’re in a constant battle against infectious diseases. This is a course about the dynamics of such diseases - how they emerge, how they spread around the globe, and how they can best be controlled.
MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses – enable students around the world to take university courses online. This guide, by the instructors of edX’s most successful MOOC in 2013-2014, Principles of Written English (based on both enrollments and rate of completion), advises current and future students how to get the most out of their online study, covering areas such as what types of courses are offered and who offers them, what resources students need, how to register, how to work effectively with other students, how to interact with professors and staff, and how to handle assignments. This second edition offers a new chapter on how to stay motivated. This book is suitable for both native and non-native speakers of English, and is applicable to MOOC classes on any subject (and indeed, for just about any type of online study).