Student in media lab

CS Wednesday Talks 2015/16

September 16, 2015
Aging and the Brain – Use it or Lose it?

Jane Couperus, dean, Hampshire College School of Cognitive Science, associate professor of developmental cognitive neuroscience

Abstract: Have you ever wondered about programs like luminosity and if they really work? What do we really know about the aging brain and what we can do to keep it in shape across the lifespan? This talk will look at what we do know about the aging brain and what we can and cannot do to enhance/protect/etc. its functioning.

Biography: Dr. Jane W. Couperus, associate professor of developmental cognitive neuroscience, received her B.A. in psychology and music from Wesleyan University, an M.A. in applied developmental psychology from Claremont Graduate University, and a Ph.D. in child development with a minor in neuroscience from the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota. Her primary research interests are in the development of attention, learning, memory, and their neurological substrates. Her research uses both behavioral and physiological techniques (primarily event related potentials) to gain a better understanding of the brain over the course of development.


September 30, 2015
genetic programming

Lee Spector, professor of computer science, Hampshire College School of Cognitive Science

Abstract: Darwinian evolution is a significant architect of complexity in the natural world. The mechanics by which evolution operates, including mutation, recombination, and selection, can be embodied in software and used to produce complex systems with a range of practical applications. Systems that use evolutionary mechanisms to produce software are called "genetic programming" systems. In this talk I will demonstrate the basic principles of genetic programming and survey some of the results that it has achieved. I will then discuss the potential that genetic programming has for automating the kind of programming work that is normally performed by humans.

Biography: Lee Spector is a professor of computer science in the School of Cognitive Science at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, and an adjunct professor in the College of Information and Computer Sciences at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He received a B.A. in philosophy from Oberlin College in 1984 and a Ph.D. from the department of computer science at the University of Maryland in 1992. His areas of teaching and research include genetic and evolutionary computation, quantum computation, and intersections between computer science, cognitive science, evolutionary biology, and the arts. He is the editor-in-chief of the journal Genetic Programming and Evolvable Machines (published by Springer) and a member of the editorial board of Evolutionary Computation (published by MIT Press). He is a member of the ACM-SIGEVO executive committee and he was named a Fellow of the International Society for Genetic and Evolutionary Computation. 



October 7, 2015
Presentations by Coppinger Award Recipients

Garrette Furo, Div III, will talk about the use of maternal SSRI (selective serotonin re-©‐uptake inhibitors) and the effects on neurodevelopment, about serotonin in the gut, and the link between serotonin and autism.

Nicole  DelRosso, Div  III:  Nicole’s  Coppinger  research  project  was  in  the  field  of  DNA nanotechnology. She  researched  how  the  properties of nucleic acids can be exploited to be used  as  an  engineering  material  to  create  nanoscale-­‐sized  biological  structures  and devices.

Cody  Paille-Jansa, Div II: With her Coppinger grant,  Cody  studied  whether  different  dog breeds  display  specific  aggressive  behaviors. Then  she  assessed  how  dogs  respond  to training  methods  using  positive  and  negative  reinforcement and punishment techniques. 

Moderator: Visiting professor Kathryn Lord, a recipient of the Ray and Lorna Coppinger Endowment  Grant. Kathryn reared a group of wolves from  birth  to see how they interpret visual information and how it contrasts with dogs.


October 21, 2015

Exploring Cognition: Why Poetry Matters

Margaret Freeman, professor emerita, Los Angeles Valley College, and co-director of Myrifield Institute for Cognition and the Arts.

Abstract: Studying poetry from a cognitive perspective is Janus-faced: looking toward both the poetic text and the workings of the mind. Poetry, like all the arts, is an aesthetic activity: the cognitive processes of creating and responding to a poetic text. Those cognitive processes are not merely conceptual; they also involve the sensory-emotional strata that underlie all rational thinking. In this presentation I will explore selected areas in the cognitive sciences to show how they both inform and can be informed by poetry. What is dubbed "second generation cognitive science" argues that the mind is embodied; I argue for a "third generation cognitive science" that defines cognition as integrating concept, sense, and emotion in what I call "minding." Poetry is exemplary in such integration. It is surprising—and for me disturbing—that most current research in cognitive approaches to literature and the arts do not deal with poetry. For me, that's like trying to roast coffee without any beans.

Biography: Margaret H. Freeman is professor emerita, Los Angeles Valley College, and co-director of Myrifield Institute for Cognition and the Arts ( She was a founding member and first president (1988-92) of the Emily Dickinson International Society. She is a co-editor of the Oxford University Press series in Cognition and Poetics. Her research interests include cognitive poetics, aesthetics, linguistics, and literature. A list of her scholarly publications may be found at


October 28, 2015

When a stray is not astray

Kathryn Lord:

Abstract: The image of a dog wandering the street or foraging through a garbage dump leaves many people feeling sad or angry. It is thought that the problem would be solved if only people were more responsible with their pets, or if only we could find these dogs homes. The fact that free-living dogs have higher pup mortality rates and do not show the same complex parental behaviors as other members of the genus Canis has lead some scientists to conclude that dog reproductive behavior has degenerated as a result of dogs' reliance on human care for survival. 

In this talk I will discuss how a closer investigation of these differences in reproductive behavior suggest that dogs have not lost their previously adaptive behaviors, but have instead evolved different reproductive behaviors that help them to thrive in the very environment we find free-living dogs inhabiting today. I will also discuss the implications these findings have on the management of dogs.

Biography: Kathryn Lord holds a Ph.D. in organismic and evolutionary biology from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and received her undergraduate degree from Hampshire College. Her main interests are in the evolution and development of animal behavior, as well as its application to the management of domestic and wild species. This semester she is teaching a course on learning and development in wolves and dogs. 


November 4, 2015

Media in Cars: Prefiguring an Internet of Things?

James Miller

Abstract: Media in cars, surprisingly, have a long and complex history. Media probably transformed the very experience of automobility. But it’s an unlikely combination: automobiles are vehicles of transportation, media are something else entirely. Yet today’s cars are suffused with media of several kinds. And digital technology lies at the heart of the driverless car.

The history of media in cars demonstrates how media can transform a built environment, making it ever more intelligent and responsive to users. In this way, it may offer a means to conceive and forecast an “internet of things,” or a material world of smart, interconnected, interactive devices.Biography: James Miller is interested in political culture and new-media-in-society. His publications address a range of subjects, including national communications and cultural policy, the comparative study of new media in North America and Europe, the cultural forms of American journalism, the commercialization of formerly public French radio and mainstream journalism training by the West in post-communist countries. Current projects focus on public diplomacy (using culture in international relations), citizenship experienced nearly totally through the media, and the development of mediatization theory. His courses reflect aspects of all these interests. He is an enthusiast of study abroad, particularly in Europe.

December 10, 2015
Using Recognition Memory to Encode Information
Brent Heeringa, associate professor and chair of computer science at Williams College
Abstract: Whether it is our ability to detect a wide range of colors or to remember a face we haven’t seen for years, the human brain is impressively adept at interpreting, encoding, and remembering visual data. It is not, however, especially adept at remembering strings of arbitrary numbers: the very patterns that identify so much of contemporary life, from credit cards to bank account numbers. This talk discusses an alternative approach that transforms symbolic information into visual representations that are universal and error-correcting.
Biography: Brent Heeringa is associate professor and chair of computer science at Williams College. His research focuses on approximation algorithms and data structures. He enjoys gardening, squash, and indie rock.



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