The Brain and Space

This course is about how the brain creates our sense of spatial location from a variety of sensory and motor sources, and how this spatial sense in turn shapes our cognitive abilities.

About The Course

Knowing where things are is effortless.  But “under the hood,” your brain must figure out even the simplest of details about the world around you and your position in it.  Recognizing your mother, finding your phone, going to the grocery store, playing the banjo – these require careful sleuthing and coordination across different sensory and motor domains.  This course traces the brain’s detective work to create this sense of space and argues that the brain’s spatial focus permeates our cognitive abilities, affecting the way we think and remember.

The material in this course is based on a book I've written for a general audience.  The book is called "Making Space: How the Brain Knows Where Things Are", and is available here, here, or here.

The course material overlaps with classes on perception or systems neuroscience, and can be taken either before or after such classes.

Frequently Asked Questions

What do you mean by "space?"  Sounds like rocket science.

No - I mean spatial locations - spatial locations of all kinds of things and all kinds of scales, ranging from how your brain can detect the shape of these letters on the screen to how you know the position of your limbs to how you remember how to get to the grocery store.

What cool stuff will I learn?

You'll learn how your eyes are like radios, how your ears tell time, and how tiny rocks in your head help you tell which way is up.  You'll learn how you know where you are, how you get from one place to another, and why you might take a shortcut to come back.  You'll learn why it’s harder to remember how to get somewhere if you’ve always been the passenger than if you have driven that way yourself.  You'll learn why, when you set off to do something and then forget what you are up to, going back to the place where you started might help you remember.

Is Signature Track available?

Yes it is!  

What resources will I need for this class?

Just an internet connection!   If you'd like to know more, the class is organized around a book that I wrote, which is available here, here, and here, or see more information here: http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674863217  

Tell me more about the book

The book is called "Making Space:  How the Brain Knows Where Things Are", and it is for a general audience.  You should be able to read and understand it without any background in neuroscience. It is available for sale here, here, or here.

Does Professor Groh really have an eye movement hat?

Does she ever.  Watch for it in the videos!

Where did you get that great image for the course logo?

The image was created by Flickr user digitalbob8, and is licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Attribution License.

Recommended Background

No background is required; all are welcome!