Electrical and Computer Engineering Seminar Series

Is the Brain Discrete?


Dr James Tee


Adjunct Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, New York and Research Scientist (cognitive Neuroscience), Quantized Mind LLC

Time & Place

Tue, 22 Aug 2017 14:00:00 NZST in Elec Link 309


Is information in the brain represented in continuous or discrete form? Surprisingly, this fundamentally basic question remains unresolved in the field of neuroscience. To date, theories of the mind/brain have primarily
focused on computations, excluding communications. This seemingly trivial exclusion is in fact a major oversight, because, in order for information to be operated on computationally, it must first be transmitted/communicated to a processing site (in the brain). This talk provides a brief overview of a collaborative research with Des Taylor, where communications theory is introduced into the computation mix by drawing on a very well-established communications systems model based on Shannon’s theorems. This interdisciplinary examination arrives at 3 key requirements and characteristics of information communications in the brain, which must be met in order for computations to take place: namely, information must be transmitted reliably, retrievable repeatedly, in the presence of noise. These requirements, in conjunction with Shannon’s communications theorems, stipulate that it is not feasible for information to be represented in continuous form - it must be in discrete form. This discrete hypothesis is a significant advance in understanding the brain, implying that computational modelling must be tightly integrated with communications aspects, instead of ignoring them. Results of computer simulations and experimental (behavioural) studies will be presented briefly. Some potential implications for the future of brain research will also be outlined.


In 2001, James completed his PhD in Electrical Engineering here at UC, under the supervision of Des Taylor. Subsequently, he held various industry and policy positions at Vodafone Group, the World Economic Forum, New Zealand's Ministry of Agriculture & Forestry, and the United Nations Development Programme. To facilitate his career transitions, he pursued numerous supplementary trainings, including an MBA at the Henley Business School and an MPhil in Economics (Environmental) at the University of Waikato. In 2012, James began his transition into scientific research at New York University (NYU), during which he completed an MA in Psychology (Cognition & Perception) and a PhD in Experimental Psychology (Neuroeconomics). Most recently, he was an Adjunct Assistant Professor at NYU's Department of Psychology, and a Research Scientist (Cognitive Neuroscience) at Quantized Mind LLC. In September 2017, James will begin his venture into Mind-Body and Energy Medicine, where he will be pursuing an MS in Acupuncture at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine.