Alumni Festival 2019 - Inside the mind: the quest to understand how the brain makes sense of the world around us

Alumni Festival 2019 - Inside the mind: the quest to understand how the brain makes sense of the world around us

Inside The Mind - Professor Zoe Kourtzi by UoC Alumni Festival

Can we understand the power of the brain? What could be unlocked if we could?

"I am fascinated by the brain. It is an incredible organ— its power is beyond our comprehension, and when it goes wrong, it has a dramatic effect on all of our lives. By understanding it better, we will be able to treat it better. And Professor Sir Gabriel Horn was right when he wrote it and right now: there’s never been a better time to collaborate to find the answers.

Inside every human head, there are around 86 billion neurons and each one has 1,000 connections. It’s simply mind-boggling to even think about it. How do the brain’s neurons piece together information from the senses to interact with a rapidly changing world? How does the brain learn and how does experience re-organise its functions? Does the brain need a personal trainer? Can you get an old brain to learn new tricks? Can we re-wire our brain through training and playing?

"If we could understand the brain, we could learn not only how we reason and how we remember but could unlock the reasons for neurological and mental health disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease, depression, anxiety and schizophrenia."


Professor Zoe Kourtzi is Professor of Experimental Psychology and Computational Cognitive Neuroscience in Cambridge's Department of Psychology. Her experimental work aims to understand the role of lifelong learning and brain plasticity in enabling humans of all ages to translate sensory experience into adaptive behaviours. Her computational work aims to develop predictive models of mental health and disease based on large-scale population data. Her work has translational impact in the early diagnosis and design of personalised interventions in healthy ageing and mental health disorders.

She received her PhD from Rutgers University and was postdoctoral fellow at MIT and Harvard University. She was a Senior Research Scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics and then a Chair in Brain Imaging at the University of Birmingham. Zoe moved to the University of Cambridge in 2013; she is a fellow of Downing College and the Cambridge University Lead at the Alan Turing Institute.