John O’Keefe at the Royal Institution

What an evening we had at the Royal Institution in London tonight. A sold-out event — room packed, and UCL Provost (Prof. Michael Arthur) present too. The first of this year’s public lectures kicked off in great style with Prof. John O’Keefe, Director of the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour at UCL. Last Friday the Norwegian Academy of Science announced that John is the recipient of the 2014 Kavli Prize, given to pioneer neuroscientists. This most prestigious award for John’s work on the neurosciences comes after last year’s Horwitz Prize. Both prizes acknowledge the importance of John’s work for understanding how the hippocampus works and the role it plays in our representation of space. Most interestingly for our story, John’s research on the hippocampus and its role for spatial representation and memory is directly inspired by Kant’s view of space and his reaction against the British empiricists. John’s thirty years of research on the hippocampus show how mammals acquire from very early days after birth the ability to discern directions in space and spatial location. The research has also shown the division of labour among the cells of the hippocampus designated to take care of different spatial tasks. Kant might have been delighted to hear that his view about space — outmoded as it might appear to our eyes in a post-Euclidean world –seems after all corroborated by neuroscientific evidence. The universal and necessary nature of Euclidean space may well just be the limit of what the hippocampus cells can possibly represent. We live in a Euclidean world, as Kant believed, because that is how spatial representation works in mammals like us. More to the point, research on the neuroscientific basis of spatial representation has far-reaching implications for understanding spatial memory, and loss thereof in diseases such as Alzheimer’s. We can well say that unwittingly Kant was a pioneer neuroscientist! Audio of the lecture available in a few weeks time on the Kant and Laws AV gallery.

This entry was posted in John O'Keefe, Kant, neuroscience, Royal Institution Lectures, Summer 2014. Bookmark the permalink.

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