Columbia University in the City of New York

How Do You Make Sense of the World?

Researchers uncover how the brain represents abstract concepts

How do you know that a house is a house – and not a horse? Your brain has an amazing ability to distill the complexity of the world into abstract concepts, concepts that describe what many different things have in common. But the brain also needs to retain enough details to distinguish a specific object amongst many. Your home is not just a house, it might have many different features, it might have many different features, like big windows and a chimney, and it carries all your memories and experiences with it.

Two Zuckerman Institute labs – led by Stefano Fusi, PhD, and C. Daniel Salzman, MD, PhD – teamed up to investigate how the brain achieves this balance between representing the world using abstract concepts while still retaining information about all its specific details. This animation explores their discoveries, published in a recent Cell paper.

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