Background and objective

BrainModes is a forum that aims to bring together scientists studying the organization of macroscopic brain dynamics. The central motif is that of "modes" – that is, understanding how complex brain activity is organized around low dimensional manifolds. The organizing principles may not be reducible to the molecular or cellular level and the resulting collective dynamics are likely to be fundamental for understanding cognitive functioning such as perception and motor control. The objective of the annual meetings is to foster informal discussion of brain modeling and multivariate data analysis (EEG, MEG, fMRI, etc). Integration of computational and empirical approaches will be imperative in formulating a comprehensive theory of macroscopic brain dynamics.

The inaugural meeting was in Berlin in 2007. Subsequent meetings have been held in Amsterdam, Bristol, Copenhagen, Marseille and Brisbane and addressed different aspects of large-scale brain activity. The focus of this year's meeting will be on criticality, connectivity, and neural masses and organized around the following themes:

  • Scale-free dynamics and criticality
  • Connectivity and brain networks
  • Neural masses and noise
  • Collective dynamics for cognition and motor control

Activity in many complex networks including the brain has been shown to be scale-free, e.g., the spatiotemporal propagation of activity in multi-electrode local field potentials and fluctuations in electrophysiological and neuroimaging signals reveal prevalent scale-free dynamics. These studies have sparked resurgent interests in scale-free brain dynamics and raise the question whether the brain might be operating in a permanently critical state.

Brain connectivity reflects the pattern of connections and interactions between distinct units within a nervous system. Brain connectivity constrains the activity patterns that unfold in the network and hence is crucial to elucidating how neurons and neural networks process information. Brain networks reveal a specific organization referred to as small-world network and new advances in graph analysis have been proposed to examine the connectivity profile of these networks.

Finally, noise has shown to have an important effect on the dynamics of a network and may in fact be an advantage for brain processing. It affects the stability of activity patterns and stochastic dynamics are fundamental for understanding phenomena like metastability and stochastic switching. Converging results suggest that stochastic dynamics represents a complementary, if not orthogonal dimension of information processing in the brain.

These three pillars of macroscopic brain dynamics – the dynamic repertoire of a node, the connections between the nodes and the role of stochastic dynamics – are heavily debated topics in their own right. Here would like to bring them together to better understand their mutual relationship and in particular their roles in shaping cognitive functioning. Not only do the collective brain dynamics give rise to cognitive functioning, they are in turn shaped by the interactions with our environment that cognitive functioning instigates.

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