A psychologist’s lifelong search to understand the brain

Barbara Moran at the website of Boston University:

ScreenHunter_1306 Aug. 11 21.06Steve Grossberg has a habit he calls “taking a think walk.” When a person spends his life applying the rigor of math to the mysteries of the mind, as Grossberg has, sometimes he gets stuck. On these occasions, with the answer to a problem just out of reach, Grossberg walks. As a younger man, he strode through Boston’s Back Bay, sometimes stopping at a cafe to write down new ideas; but mostly he walked, enjoying the sparkling city at night, coaxing along the insights that always, finally, came. “Many scientists see or feel things before they fully know them,” says Grossberg, Boston University’s Wang Professor of Cognitive and Neural Systems. “Eventually things become luminous, glistening; everything becomes clear.”

Grossberg’s insights, spanning decades, have changed the way we understand the brain. One of the principal founders and current leaders in the field of neural networks, Grossberg has tried to answer two major questions: how does the brain control behavior, and how can technology emulate biological intelligence? His mathematical models touch almost every area of psychology and neuroscience, including learning, memory, vision, development, speech, language, attention, cognition, navigation, and even consciousness. The applications of his work have been equally vast, in fields from image processing to pattern recognition, manufacturing to medicine.

Grossberg’s scientific quest is also a spiritual one, sparked by early tragedy and propelled by a pursuit of transcendence. When accepting the 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Experimental Psychologists, he spoke movingly of his need “to grow toward something more enduring.” What Grossberg wants, simply, is to understand how the lump of gray tissue we call our brain gives rise to the creative, soulful presence we call our mind. “For me, science is a spiritual calling,” he says, “not just a profession.”

More here. [Thanks to Yohan John.]