At the recent theme symposium of the 1999 International Joint Conference on Neural Networks held in Washington, D.C., neurobiologists, psychologists, and engineers presented a wide variety of research projects attempting to make sense of the human brain. But despite the variance among disciplines and approaches, the symposium, entitled "Neuronal Ensembles: Paradigm Shifts in Cognitive Modeling," had a common thread: elucidating brain function by examining the behavior of groups of neurons rather than single neuronal cells.

"Most biologists are concerned with specific molecular processes in, say, individual cells," explains symposium coorganizer Yan Yufik, president of the Institute of Medical Cybernetics in Gaithersburg, Md. "[That's] very important, but [it] doesn't give you an insight into how processes in the human nervous system are different from what's happening in, say, the fish." Experiments at the cellular level cannot, says Yufik, speak to the complexity of the human nervous system. In fact, many...

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