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Intersections of Curiosity: Lessons from Bridging Neuroscience and Artificial Intelligence

Recently, one of my dedicated research endeavors, titled “Emergence of Emotion Selectivity in Deep Neural Networks Trained to Recognize Visual Objects,” was published. This milestone has sparked a plethora of thoughts in my mind. Considering my increasingly reflective state, I believe it is valuable to share these insights publicly.

  1. Open Mind: I have a broad interest in various fields. In 2019, as a student focusing on medical imaging analysis, I began to explore the interactions between neuroscience and artificial intelligence. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to discuss this with a friend who is studying neuroscience. The fascinating complexity of the human brain intrigued me, leading to thoughts on leveraging AI to understand brain functions. Our inspirational discussions convinced me that this was a path worth exploring. Gradually, a collaboration was formed between two labs (Prof. Mingzhou Ding and Prof. Ruogu Fang), and our mutual interest fueled this collaboration.
  2. Efforts Over Outcomes: Starting a new path is always challenging, especially figuring out where or how to begin in a new field. We explored various approaches and directions, investing tremendous effort in this research. Most times, the process was not exciting but filled with struggles to achieve interesting results. However, I enjoyed this journey. Looking back, I appreciate the knowledge gained, the mindset changes, and the growth in strength. The most beautiful aspect is the intricate emotions developed through this challenging journey. The best way to learn and grow is through discomfort. These changes in mindset and behavior have a subtle but nuanced impact on those around you, lasting for decades and generations, which is more important than any immediate outcome (e.g., publication). This perspective suggests we should reconsider the core of learning and teaching, emphasizing effort over outcomes to inspire students to build their world with more joy and interest. It makes me wonder how my mindset changed to value effort over immediate results.
  3. Challenges Arise from Simplicity: Our work was seemingly simple – identifying selective neurons for emotion in neural networks. Finding neurons that behaved differently was straightforward, but determining if they were selective for emotions alone was challenging. Could they also be selective for faces or objects? What is emotion, after all? We sought to connect human subjective feelings with artificial neurons in a limited physical space, requiring convincing evidence of these neurons’ functionality. After exploring numerous experimental developments, I finally obtained convincing evidence supporting our claims. However, the simplicity is what initially captures attention in our work.
  4. The Art of Scientific Work: Creating scientific work is not always about suffering; it’s about creating art with your efforts. The more effort you put in, the more beautiful it becomes. You learn and understand more about your work, sometimes knowing little about the underlying insights even after publication. It’s ironic but true. I appreciate the changes from inside out, affecting others who are discovering or building amazing work to address human challenges.
  5. No Talent, Just Passion and Perseverance: This work took many years to complete, and I never wanted to give up. We underwent two rounds of revision, and a particularly challenging but critical question arose during the last round—disentangling the effects of object category and emotion categories in selective neurons. Honestly, I wasn’t fully convinced of our discoveries until I achieved the “desired” results. Without passion for the truth and perseverance in my exploration, completion would have been impossible. As I recommend to my students, the book “Grit” by Angela Duckworth is a must-read for students, educators, and parents alike.
  6. Focus Matters: As mentioned, I have broad interests. However, life is short. If we could live 200 years, I would spend the first 100 exploring everything I could and the next 100 focusing on what interests me the most. Knowing this earlier would have led me to double my efforts on this work. Recently, I advised a young college student on career development and life choices, sharing my experiences and encouraging her to find and focus on what interests her most as early as possible. I explained how focusing on what truly fascinates us can lead to greater happiness and fulfillment in life. This approach counters the temptation to spread our interests too thinly, especially given the constraints of human biology and the finite nature of our existence. In a world where our understanding of others is inherently limited, honing in on our passions not only enhances our own well-being but also allows us to make more meaningful contributions within the limited space and time we have.

Each individual is unique, with their talents, characters, interests, etc. I continue to ponder how these differences impact the development of life/career paths and influence our organizations and the distribution of wealth in the long term.

This journey of exploration, marked by curiosity, challenge, and collaboration, has not only expanded my horizons but also deepened my appreciation for the intricacies of interdisciplinary research. It has taught me the invaluable lessons of perseverance, the importance of an open mind, and the transformative power of dedication. These experiences underscore the belief that the pursuit of knowledge is not solely about the destination but the journey itself. As we continue to navigate the vast and complex landscape of scientific inquiry, let us carry forward the insights gained, not just as individual achievements but as collective contributions to the broader tapestry of human understanding and progress. I am really grateful for the efforts, guidance, and support of Prof. Mingzhou Ding and Prof. Ruogu Fang.

Imagine an abstract representation of a journey through interdisciplinary research, bridging the realms of neuroscience and artificial intelligence to understand human emotions. The foreground features a figure (the researcher) standing at the crossroads of two winding paths: one adorned with digital circuitry and glowing nodes representing AI and machine learning, and the other with intricate neural networks and brain-like structures symbolizing neuroscience. Both paths merge into a horizon that blends the digital with the biological, illustrating the convergence of technology and human understanding. The researcher holds a lantern casting light onto both paths, symbolizing enlightenment and discovery. The sky above is a canvas of celestial wonders, signifying the vastness of knowledge and the pursuit of questions beyond the immediate. This image embodies the challenges, collaboration, and passion that fuel scientific exploration, and the beauty of the journey in seeking answers to complex questions about human emotion and cognition.

What surprises me most?

Past lives, but only in the present. The concept of time is often perceived as a linear progression, where events of the past influence our present, and our actions in the present determine our future. However, in reality, we only ever experience the present moment. The past is a collection of memories, and the future is a series of anticipations. Both are intangible and exist only in our minds.

Our understanding of the past is constantly evolving based on new discoveries and reinterpretations. Similarly, our vision of the future is shaped by our hopes, fears, and predictions, but it remains uncertain and ever-changing. The only constant is the present moment, which is fleeting and transient.

This realization can be both liberating and daunting. On one hand, it encourages us to live in the moment, appreciate the present, and make the most of every opportunity. On the other hand, it reminds us of the impermanence of life and the importance of cherishing every moment.

The ability to be fully present and live in the “now” is often seen as a key to happiness and well-being. By focusing on the present, we can better appreciate the beauty of life, build meaningful connections with others, and find joy in the simple things. It also allows us to let go of past regrets and future anxieties, leading to a more fulfilling and contented life.

A wise person once said, what surprises me the most is about humankind while getting board childhood, run into grow-up, and once matured, they wish to be children again. They lose their health to make money and then lose their money to restore their health. They think anxiously about the future, forgetting the present, such that they live neither in the present nor the future. They live as if they are never going to die and die having never truly lived.

This profound observation touches on the paradoxes of human life. It underscores the importance of cherishing every phase of life, from the innocence of childhood to the wisdom of old age. It also highlights the need to live in the present, appreciate the moments as they come, and not get lost in the pursuit of materialistic goals at the expense of our well-being. The essence of this saying is a reminder to embrace life fully, to find balance, and always to remember what truly matters.

In conclusion, the realization that we live neither in the past nor the future but only in the present can be a powerful reminder to embrace every moment and make the most of our time on earth.

The Road from Brain to Human and Society

Chapter 1: A Biological System.

Chapter 2: “Perfect” Brain

Chapter 3: “Think” Others

Chapter 4: Individual Difference

Chapter 5: Neuronal Addiction and Bias

Chapter 6: Brain without Emotion

Chapter 7: Consciousness and Mentality

Chapter 8: We are Human

Chapter 9: Brain and Education

Chapter 10: Brain Speaking to Culture

Chapter 11: Brain with Politics

Chapter 12: A Better Society

Chapter 13: What if We Can Live Longer