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Public Talk co-sponsored by UW Psychology - Cognitive Neuroscience and UW School of Architecture

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Towards a Neuroscience of Dynamic Experience and Design

Michael Arbib, University of Southern California (Emeritus) & NewSchool of Architecture and Design

Tuesday, April 9, 2019, 12 noon

Cummings Lecture Theatre,
School of Architecture, Waterloo

7 Melville St S, Cambridge


My first book was Brains, Machines and Mathematics and my first paper for the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture was Brains, Machines and Buildings. The machines here are cybernetic machines engaged in computation, communication and control. This led me (recently) to revisit Le Corbusier's dictum "A home is a machine for living in," taking seriously the transition from his concern with ocean liners, airplanes and automobiles to a concern with brains and cybernetic machines. However, one must note that Le Corbusier's enthusiasm for the engineer’s aesthetic in no way reduced his view of the primacy of the architect’s. This analysis leads into considering a “neuromorphic” architecture in which form and space are intertwined with actions, events, and effects on users. A building can be looked at as a web of systems and components planned and constructed to address certain functionalities and yet which may combine to convey impressions, feelings, and aesthetic qualities. The discussion will be framed by comments on  the 2018 Davos Declaration on “Pathways for politically and strategically promoting high-quality Baukultur in Europe.”


The thrust of Michael Arbib’s work is expressed in the title of his first book, Brains, Machines and Mathematics: The brain is not a computer in the current technological sense, but he has based his career on the argument that we can learn much about machines from studying brains, and much about brains from studying machines. His current interest in architecture extends the scope to Brains, Machines and Buildings.
In addition to his research in artificial intelligence, brain theory and cognitive science, Arbib has been actively involved in theory of computation and system theory. His concern for the social implications of computer science was given textbook expression in Computers and the Cybernetic Society. In 1983 he and Mary Hesse delivered the Gifford Lectures in Natural Theology at the University of Edinburgh, since published as The Construction of Reality, providing a coherent epistemology for both individual and social knowledge.

He is Coordinator of the Advisory Council of the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture (ANFA:, with a special interest in neuromorphic architecture in the sense of supplying buildings with an “interaction infrastructure” whose design is informed by research on computational models for cognitive and social neuroscience. His recent writings also include articles on the neuroscience of design and of the experience of architecture, and he has presented talks on the architecture-neuroscience conversation around the USA as well as in Australia, Austria, Germany, Italy, Singapore … and (soon) Canada.


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