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Last Lectures, Class of 2014: Genes, Brain, and the Human Mind

May 14th, 2014, 5:36pm by Sam Wang


This Friday, May 16th, I’ll be speaking to the graduating Class of 2014. My topic is “Genes, Brain, and the Human Mind: Neuroscience in the 21st Century.” It’s at 7:00 pm in McCosh 10, here on the Princeton campus If you’re local, please come! The lecture is open to all students, faculty, and community members, though seniors have first priority if the room fills.

To get a taste of what I’ll talk about: I’ll be talking about a research program that was launched by me speaking to the incoming class when they were freshmen. They got me interested in whether intellectual traits could be inherited. As it turns out, they might be, and if they are, they share common genetic causation with disorders such as autism and depression! See this press release, and Catherine Rampell’s take on the work. I’ll also talk about the US government’s BRAIN Initiative, and what it means for the future of neuroscience. Come on out!

Tags: Princeton

3 Comments so far ↓

  • MAT

    Any chance there was a recording of the event you could post?

  • MAT

    This type study would be interesting at my alma mater, Ga Tech, where STEM pretty well rules the day, to see if the numbers line up with the Princeton results.

    A question I would have – how much of this effect, if it exists, is simply cultural? STEM based roles and careers are much more tolerant of individuals who otherwise struggle socially than many other career choices.

    • Sam Wang

      I don’t have a problem with your explanation – but I would not call that cultural. It has been suggested that some people are more interested in social agency, i.e. motivations, personal relationships, and so on. Others are more interested in systems of rules. This almost certainly has a genetic basis, at least in part. So many other mental traits do, including verbal and math ability, mental illness, and neurodevelopmental disorders. Why would intellectual style be any different? The familial association with autism we saw a few years ago spanned multiple subjects, ranging from physics to chemistry to biology to psychology. It is easily explained by what Baron-Cohen has called a “systemizing” personality, which taken to extremes could get onto the autism spectrum.

      In any case, the next step in investigating such a question is to identify specific genes that both increase the risk of autism, and also increase the “risk” of having technical interests. At that point, discussions of “cultural” factors become moot. That’s what we are currently working on.

      In regard to the event, it was not recorded. Eventually I will publish the slides!

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