Neuroschool seminar – Elizabeth Torres
Friday October 27, 2023, at 14:30, INT Henri Gastaut meeting room
Elizabeth Torres (Department of Psychology, Rutgers University – USA) invited by Shrabasti Jana
Measuring human agency as a balance between autonomy and control
Abstract: As altricial mammals, humans require a long time to mature and independently, without the help of another human, match their mental intent to their own self-generated physical actions, under volitional control. At birth, most vital motions for survival autonomously work through a series of central patterns generators, reflexes and spontaneous motions that help the nascent brain sample the periphery and build spatio-temporal representations for self-referencing, and bottom-up selfemerging physical entrainment, synergistically simplifying the problem of coordination and top-down control of the nervous systems biorhythms by the developing brain. From breathing patterns to feeding/excreting motions, neonates survive and go on to thrive and develop coordinated and synergistic patterns, flexibly recruiting and releasing the vast number of bodily degrees of freedom, and eventually doing so in a highly controlled manner that dynamically distinguishes between deliberate, intended, and incidental, spontaneous movements. The development of top-down predictive maps then transitions the human infant through notable milestones of motor control, and motor learning, following ontogenetically orderly power (scaling) laws connecting growth, neuromotor-development, and various cognitive abilities. This feat to autonomously control selfgenerated actions, to accurately predict their consequences and to develop a sense of action ownership, while generalizing them across different contexts, creates a well-balanced sense of agency that intrinsically rewards the human and encourages social exchange. As the bodily biorhythms are highly variable and particular to each human, then extending the coordination and control of one’s own body to those of others, and physically entraining with them in a social scene to communicate, is then a tangible goal of the system, and one that when successfully attained, leads to co-adaptation of the individual with the other societal members. It is in this sense that well-being can emerge and be supported throughout one’s social existence. My talk shows new dynamic-driven statistical learning and general differential geometric methods with theoretical concepts amenable to precisely quantify these notions as law-like cognitive invariants across the human lifespan. I include examples of their disruptions in neurodevelopment and neuropsychiatric and neurological disorders. Finally, I will show examples of converting these basic-science concepts into actionable, scalable science by embedding our US and EU patented inventions in commercially available means.