Mind and Matter Seminar 2023

Join us for thought-provoking talks chaired by Mind and Matter researchers. We meet every other Friday in the university main building for a presentation and a discussion, and an opportunity to socialise afterwards. Learn more about the presenters and their topics below.

Time: Every other Friday from 15 September until 8 December 2023, 14:15–15:45 EEST/EET

Place: University of Helsinki main building, Unioninkatu 34, 4th floor, room U4078, and online (Zoom link

  • 15 September - Mari Tervaniemi:

    The neuroscience of music – towards ecological validity
  • 29 September - Paavo Pylkkänen:

    Mind, Matter and Quantum Mechanics
  • 13 October - Satu Palva:

    Neuronal basis of inter-individual variability
  • 27 October - Nelson Totah:

    How does the brain stop us from making mistakes?
  • 10 November - Pii Telakivi:

    AI-Extenders vs. Basic Extenders: Cognitive Extension or Manipulation?
  • 24 November - Kai Kaila:

    Consciousness, cognition and reality: a prestabilized harmony set by evolution
  • 8 December - Risto Ilmoniemi:

    Transcranial magnetic stimulation: new level of sophistication and efficacy
15 September - Mari Tervaniemi

The neuroscience of music – towards ecological validity

Studies in the neuroscience of music gained momentum in the 1990s as an integrated part of the well-controlled experimental research tradition. However, during the past two decades, these studies have moved toward more naturalistic, ecologically valid paradigms. 

In my talk, I introduce this move in three frameworks: (i) empirical paradigms, (ii) study participants, and (iii) methods and means of data acquisition. I aim to provide an overview of the development of the field and, in parallel, to stimulate innovative thinking to further advance the ecological validity of the studies without overlooking experimental rigor. The focus is in the neuroscience of music but the discussion has relevance to studies in cognitive auditory neuroscience, social and affective neuroscience, etc.

Mari Tervaniemi

Mari Tervaniemi works at the Faculty of Educational Sciences, University of Helsinki and she belongs to the newly established Centre of Music, Mind, Body, and Brain (Research Council of Finland). By now, her research has focused at investigating the mechanisms of human auditory cognition, emotion, and expertise particularly in music domain. Currently, she investigates the basic mechanisms of learning in real-life contexts using multimethodological and interdisciplinary approach.


29 September - Paavo Pylkkänen

Mind, Matter and Quantum Mechanics

In his formulation of quantum theory, John von Neumann made a distinction between the quantum and the classical levels, saying that there was a “cut” between them. Intuitively, “small” objects such as electrons live at the quantum level, while “larger” objects such as a measuring apparatus live at the classical level. This cut was meant as purely abstract, because the quantum and classical levels exist in one world. But for the sake of analysis, one could talk about these two different levels and treat them as being in interaction (e.g. an interaction between the measuring apparatus and the electron). The effect of this interaction was to produce changes both at the classical level (the result we observe) and at the quantum level (the state of the electron after the interaction). The change at the quantum level has been described as a “collapse” of the quantum wave function. The trouble is that such a collapse violates Schrödinger’s equation, which must hold for any quantum system. As von Neumann had no physical explanation or description of the collapse, he just postulated it, as an extra process or “law”. He also said that we can move the cut between the quantum part of the world and the classical part of the world. As we can then include all kinds of macroscopic objects, and even the brain of the observer to the quantum part of the world, it seems that the only non-quantum thing left which can “collapse” the wave function is the non-material consciousness of the observer! This idea, first suggested by von Neumann and Wigner, has recently been discussed by the philosophers David Chalmers and Kelvin McQueen.  On the other hand, the physicist Roger Penrose has proposed that rather than consciousness collapsing the wave function, a certain kind of collapse (e.g. in neural microtubules) constitutes conscious experience. This talk explores this difficult but fascinating territory in the foundations of our scientific worldview.

Paavo Pylkkänen

Paavo Pylkkänen is Senior Lecturer in Theoretical Philosophy at the University of Helsinki.  As Vice Dean for Research at the Faculty of Arts in 2018–2020 he had a key role in developing the Mind and Matter profiling area for the University of Helsinki. His main research areas are philosophy of mind, philosophy of physics and their intersection. The central problem in philosophy of mind and cognitive neuroscience is how to understand the place of mind – and especially conscious experience – in the physical world. Pylkkänen has explored whether this problem can be approached in a new way in the framework of the new holistic and dynamic worldview that is emerging from quantum theory and relativity. He has in particular been inspired by the physicists David Bohm and Basil Hiley’s interpretation of quantum theory and has collaborated with both of them.

13 October - Satu Palva

Neuronal basis of inter-individual variability

Human behaviour and cognitive performance shows large inter-individual variability that influence our everyday lives. The neuronal basis of this variability has, however, remained poorly understood. In my talk, I will discuss the neuronal basis of inter-individual variability in cognition in healthy brain and in brain diseases. I will focus on two frameworks: i) brain rhythm and their variability as a systems-level mechanism of cognition and its variability, ii) the critical brain hypothesis framework to explain variability in brain states.

Satu Palva

Satu Palva is a Research Director at the Neuroscience Center, HiLIFE, Professor of Cognitive Psychology at the University of Oulu and Professor of Magnetoencephalography at the University of Glasgow. Her research is interdisciplinary in the area of systems and cognitive neuroscience with the overarching goal to produce understanding of the computational mechanism of human brain functions in health and disease. Her research is specifically focused on understanding how brain oscillation interaction and dynamics serve cognitive function with emphasis in human electrophysiology (MEG, EEG, iEEG).

27 October - Nelson Totah

How does the brain stop us from making mistakes?

Imagine writing an email when you are upset. As you reach toward your phone to click “send”, you realize sending it would be a mistake; you change your mind and stop yourself from clicking. Once we act, how can we change our mind? “Free will” is a topic of lively philosophical inquiry but has limited grounding in physical observations. In the first part of this talk, I will show results from a change-of-mind (CoM) paradigm in which rats mistakenly act and then decide to stop the in-progress action. In the task, head-fixed rats discriminate two stimuli by either running on a treadmill past a distance threshold (Go) or remaining immobile (NoGo). On CoM trials, rats mistakenly begin running to the NoGo stimulus but soon realize their mistake and chose to return to immobility before crossing the threshold. We found two anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) neuronal ensembles for monitoring and adjusting actions that are distinguished by their operational timeframe. One performs real-time action monitoring to enact CoM, while the other looks back in time to monitor recent actions and outcomes. In the second part of the talk, I will discuss the neural causes of mistaken actions. Distinct groups of ACC neurons selectively respond, either to the Go, or the NoGo stimulus. On CoM trials, Go stimulus-preferring units aberrantly responded to the NoGo stimulus. If this stimulus-evoked response was larger, then the rat mistakenly ran faster. Thus, ignition of the wrong pool of stimulus-responsive neurons may drive mistaken actions. Finally, I will show that motor cortex EEG beta oscillations cause action stopping during a CoM and highlight their utility for controlling brain-machine interfaces.

Nelson Totah

Dr. Totah received his BS at Emory University (Atlanta, Georgia) and his PhD at the University of Pittsburgh in the laboratory of Prof. Bita Moghaddam. Subsequently, he was a Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics (Tuebingen, Germany) in the laboratory of Dr. Oxana Eschenko. In 2019, Dr. Totah became an Academy of Finland Research Fellow and Assistant Professor in the Helsinki Institute of Life Science at the University of Helsinki. Dr. Totah’s laboratory studies the neural code that organisms use to learn, adapt, and improve their behavior. His laboratory has led a paradigm shift in understanding the neurophysiology of the brainstem nucleus, locus coeruleus, by showing that these neurons fire as ensembles that individually sculpt the variety of brain states observed during complex, adaptive behavior. Dr. Totah is active in educational outreach as the Founder and Vice-Chairman of an US-based national science education organization, the Science National Honor Society. He is also active in diplomacy and serves, at the request of the US Ambassador to Finland, as the Vice-Chairman of the Fulbright Finland Foundation / Fulbright Finland - US Educational Exchange Commission.

10 November - Pii Telakivi

AI-Extenders vs. Basic Extenders: Cognitive Extension or Manipulation?

The thesis of extended cognition maintains that cognition is not only constituted by neural functions, but its realising basis is often extended to different types of tools and technologies we use. So far, research within the extended cognition framework has mainly focused on “traditional” tool use, such as taking notes with pen and paper. However, I am interested in how the extension relation changes, when instead of a passive tool like a notebook the extension is actualised with AI technology. The goal of this talk is to show that the thesis of extended cognition cannot be directly applied to cases where the external tool is based on certain kind of AI technology. Ethical considerations are more pressing when it comes to cognitive extension facilitated by AI technology, in comparison to more conventional technology. “AI-extenders” come with compromised self-determination and autonomy that might lead to responsibility gaps. This matter is highly topical in today’s context because AI-extended cognition is becoming more common in everyday life, notably among elderly individuals afflicted by memory disorders. The identification of mechanisms that can become manipulative and result in responsibility gaps is a prerequisite for finding adequate ways to address them.

Pii Telakivi

Pii Telakivi works as a post-doctoral researcher in RADAR: Robophilosophy, AI Ethics, and Datafication Research at the University of Helsinki. She was also a Fulbright Finland Junior Scholar in the Department of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. Her research focuses on extended, embodied cognition and consciousness, exploring the intersections between philosophy of mind, artificial intelligence, and psychiatry. Her monograph “Extending the Extended Mind: From Cognition to Consciousness” was published by Palgrave-Macmillan in July 2023.

24 November - Kai Kaila

Consciousness, cognition and reality: a prestabilized harmony set by evolution

A problem that has tormented numerous prominent philosophers in the past is: why is it that we have lots of a priori-like knowledge of characteristics of the external reality (or World) which is clearly not acquired by experience or learning? The above sentence is formulated roughly according to the terminology by Immanuel Kant. Gottfried Leibniz had earlier coined the idea of a God-given “Prestabilized Harmony”, a fundamentally dualistic scheme which postulates harmony but no cause-effects between the mind and body. 

The work by the 19th century polymath Hermann von Helmholtz led to paradigmatic change in thinking, which was implemented only recently. He demonstrated that we make “unconscious judgements” or “pre-rational conclusions” which dictate how we perceive objects – and, indeed, everything in our external reality. Helmholtz’ ideas make a perfect match with what is now known about the evolution and ontogeny of our perceptual, and cognitive systems. He established a platform for the striking advances in current neurophysiology and -anatomy of cognitive processes. Hand-waving theories underscoring the brain’s “complexity” have been largely replaced by well-defined theories such as “active inference” (Karl Friston). The main idea here is that the individual infers (based on iterative Bayesian principles) the actions that will most likely generate preferred sensory input. Active inference aims at identifying the “hidden causes” which are not evident in a percept. They are valuable in terms of the individual’s existence, and they do have veracity.        

Notably, “active inference” in skillful movements demonstrates that sensory and motor systems in the brain are not anatomically separate, and that ongoing proprioceptive feedback is used to “scoop” complicated spinal reflex pathways to shape movement patterns in an amazingly fast manner without the need of so-called motor commands from higher levels.      

Another recent development by pioneers such as A. D. Craig is that our feeling of Self as well as body ownership are mainly dictated by interoceptive rather than exteroceptive processing. Distorted development of interoceptive processing appears to be a major cause of psychiatric illness.  

Kai Kaila

Kai Kaila is professor at the Laboratory of Neurobiology, University of Helsinki. Much of his lab’s work is on GABAergic transmission, which is a major organizer of neuronal network activity in the brain. The research strategy is based on an integrative approach, in which physiological and pathophysiological mechanisms are investigated from the molecular and cellular level to the whole organism. This research also aims to bring a strong evolutionary perspective in the study of CNS disorders. As pointed out in their recent reviews, disease processes have both adaptive and maladaptive components. The currently ongoing work in the laboratory is aimed, among other things, at finding the neural substrates of cognitive disturbances caused by neuroinflammation. Kaila has given numerous invited talks on the neurobiology of consciousness at national and international forums.

8 December - Risto Ilmoniemi

Transcranial magnetic stimulation: new level of sophistication and efficacy

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) has emerged as a powerful non-invasive technique for stimulating the human brain, inducing electric current flow in the tissue and activating neurons. Accurate delivery of TMS to cortical targets is essential for effective brain research, diagnosis, and therapy. Navigated TMS (nTMS), when combined with EEG, allows for mapping cortical reactivity and assessing effective connectivity. The advent of multi-locus TMS (mTMS) enhances the accuracy, reliability, and speed of cortical mapping. By electronically controlling the stimulated location and electric field (E-field) orientation with mTMS, coupled with advanced EEG-analysis algorithms, unprecedented ability to characterize the functionality of cortical areas is achievable. This presentation reviews briefly the evolution of these techniques, from their inception to current developments and future prospects. Furthermore, recent advancements in TMS technology enable image-guided targeting, sequential stimulation, and the recording/display of brain activity, expanding TMS applications in both basic research and clinical settings. The combination of TMS with EEG and other functional brain mapping techniques holds great promise for comprehensive exploration and utilization of these techniques in various contexts, including neuroscience, neurology, psychiatry, and neurophilosophy.

Risto Ilmoniemi

Risto Ilmoniemi is Professor Emeritus (Applied Physics) at the Department of Neuroscience and Biomedical Engineering at Aalto University. During his early career at the Low Temperature Laboratory of Helsinki University of Technology, he pioneered magnetic measurements of human brain activity, building the world's first multichannel SQUID magnetometer for brain mapping in 1983 and developing signal-analysis methods for data interpretation. After postdoctoral work at New York University, he led efforts in the 1990’s at the BioMag Laboratory of Helsinki University Hospital to develop transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) technology; he founded Nexstim Ltd in 2000, acting as its Chairman and CEO until 2005. Currently, he coordinates the ERC Synergy project ConnectToBrain (2019–2026), in which multi-locus TMS (mTMS) is being developed to enable precise and effective means to modulate the activity of brain networks based on real-time feedback from EEG and other recordings.


Past events

Time: Every other Friday from 20 January until 28 April 2023, 14:15–15:45 EET

Place: University of Helsinki main building, Unioninkatu 34, 4th floor, room U4078, and online

  • 20 January - Otto Lappi:

    Cognitive Science in the wild - how not to do it?
  • 3 February - Aapo Hyvärinen:

    Painful intelligence: What AI can tell us about human suffering
  • 17 February - Riitta Hari:

    Motor Minds in Caricature Worlds
  • CANCELLED! 3 March - Satu Palva:

    Brain oscillations: linking physiology to cognition
  • 17 March - Valdi Ingthorsson:

    Four Rival Views about Causal Efficacy
  • 31 March - Anna-Mari Rusanen:

    Problematizing AI and its social consequences in AI Regulation
  • 14 April - Jukka K. Nurminen:

    Quantum software - is it just software?
  • 28 April - Maria Olkkonen

    The role of prior knowledge in color perception
20 January - Otto Lappi

Cognitive Science in the wild - how not to do it?

In everyday life we carry out many tasks that are apparently easy and simple, but are in fact underpinned by surprisingly sophisticated cognitive and neural mechanisms. This impressive adaptability of human perception and cognition is starkly revealed, for example, in artificial intelligence and robotics where everyday tasks have turned out to be huge challenges.

To understand why we can have a tremendous human advantage for these sorts skills, yet “superhuman AI” for others, we need to understand how the human mind and brain cope with the complexity and ambiguity of real-world tasks. This can only be achieved by taking a properly ecological approach to how we do research in cognitive science, both at the level of theory and methodology. But what does an “ecological” approach amount to, and what counts (and does not count) as an “ecological” approach to Cognitive Science?

In this talk, I present ten simple rules to evaluate the “ecological” credentials of empirical research in the cognitive sciences, discuss their rationale, and the ways we researchers all too often violate them.

Otto Lappi

Otto Lappi is an Academy Research Fellow and a Senior Lecturer in Cognitive Science at the University of Helsinki. He is interested in all aspects of the cognitive basis of everyday & expert performance – driving performance most especially. He leads a lab at the University of Helsinki, and his empirical work is mostly based on eye tracking & experimental work in challenging naturalistic tasks, especially combining observations "in the wild", simulator studies, and controlled lab tasks.

Besides his empirical research, he also has a background in philosophy, where he is interested in the conceptual and methodological foundations of cognitive science.

3 February - Aapo Hyvärinen

Painful intelligence: What AI can tell us about human suffering

This talk is based on the recent book with the same title, freely available at www.painfulintelligence.info . The book uses the modern theory of artificial intelligence (AI) to understand human suffering or mental pain. Both humans and sophisticated AI agents process information about the world in order to achieve goals and obtain rewards, which is why AI can be used as a model of the human brain and mind. This book intends to make the theory accessible to a relatively general audience, requiring only some relevant scientific background.

Aapo Hyvärinen

Aapo Hyvärinen studied undergraduate mathematics at the universities of Helsinki (Finland), Vienna (Austria), and Paris (France), and obtained a Ph.D. degree in Information Science at the Helsinki University of Technology in 1997.  After post-doctoral work at the Helsinki University of Technology, he moved to the University of Helsinki in 2003, where he was appointed Professor in 2008, at the Department of Computer Science. From 2016 to 2019, he was Professor of Machine Learning at the Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit, University College London, UK.  Aapo Hyvärinen is the main author of the books "Independent Component Analysis" (2001), "Natural Image Statistics" (2009), and "Painful Intelligence" (2022).

17 February - Riitta Hari

Motor Minds in Caricature Worlds

This talk sends up a trial balloon of some semi-raw thoughts about the human mind. Assuming that reality exists independently of our knowing and perceiving, I will first claim that we all live in individual “caricature worlds” that are shaped by our brains and senses, prior experiences, and sensorimotor and emotional bodily states so that we automatically emphasize salient and surprising events. We can share the caricature worlds to some extent because we live in similar environments and are interacting with other people in the society.

Second, I will argue that the attempts to solve the “mind–body (or mind–brain) problem” would greatly benefit from more serious consideration of the evolution and emergence of brain functions, the special features of living matter, and social interaction.

Throughout the talk I will emphasize the importance (even primacy) of motor action, and thereby of the body, for the development and proper functioning of the human mind, including thinking.

And finally: Understanding the human mind is a wicked problem that does not fall into the arms of any single discipline. We thus should strive for convergence research where researchers with different backgrounds share their target problems.

Riitta Hari

Riitta Hari, MD PhD, is Academician of Science and Distinguished Prof. (emerita) of Human Systems Neuroscience and Brain Imaging at Aalto University, Finland. Hari has studied sensory, motor and cognitive functions in healthy humans and patient groups, with main focus in the dynamics of brain function. She has advocated “two-person neuroscience” for the study of the brain basis of social interaction, and she is currently trying to bridge art and neuroscience. Hari was the initiator and chair of Mind Forum (funded by the Finnish Cultural Foundation) and the lead author of ‘Ihmisen mieli’ (‘The Human Mind’; Gaudeamus 2015).

17 March - Valdi Ingthorsson

Four Rival Views about Causal Efficacy

It has been claimed—perhaps most famously by Bertrand Russell—that the concept of cause has no place in the empirical sciences. This is arguably an exaggeration, but with a grain of truth. Undeniably, it has not been easy to see how philosophical accounts of causal connections fit with the scientific understanding of particular physical phenomena. This is understandable for so-called standard approaches to causation (i.e. in terms of regularity, conditions, counterfactuals, and intervention), since they are arguably attempts to elucidate how people think and reason about causation rather than attempts to figure out what causation really is. However, in the last 30 years or so there has been a surge of interest in developing realist accounts of causation that are informed by—or at least compatible with—the theories and findings of the empirical sciences. In this talk I will present four realist accounts of causation and discuss whether they really succeed in explaining two kinds of physical phenomena—collisions between billiard balls, and how water dissolves salt—in a manner compatible with the received scientific understanding of said phenomena. The four accounts are: (i) transmission accounts, (ii) mechanistic accounts, (iii) powers-based accounts, and (iv) the powerful particulars account. I will argue that the first three accounts fare badly in this exercise, mainly because they all assume that physical influence is unidirectional, while the natural sciences insist all interactions are reciprocal. The notion of “reciprocity” is admittedly ambiguous, and I will outline three different senses in which it currently understood. I will argue that the fourth account fares much better than the other. This is not surprising, because it was developed in the first place to address the flaws of the other three and develop an understanding of causation in terms of reciprocal action.

Valdi Ingthorsson

Valdi Ingthorsson is a lecturer in philosophy at the University of  Helsinki. His research centers on various issues in metaphysics, such as the nature of time, persistence, causality, powers, substances, processes, and truth. He is the author of the books McTaggart’s Paradox (2016) and A Powerful Particulars View of Causation (2021). He also has an interest in various issues in the philosophy of science, such as the difference between the natural and human sciences, and between quantitative and qualitative research methodology.

31 March - Anna-Mari Rusanen

Problematizing AI and its social consequences in AI Regulation

What is the future of AI in Europe and in the world? In March 2023, the European Parliament is expected to vote on the new regulation for artificial intelligence, the AI Act. The AI Act introduces harmonized rules for the design and deployment of AI systems across different sectors in Europe. During the lengthy political process the AI Act has become almost mythical and, unlike most technology regulation, it is broadly discussed among politicians, engineers, and civil society actors. This M&M talk addresses the myths and problematisations of AI regulation from the combined perspective of cognitive science and socio-legal studies on law, technology, and society. The discussion is divided into four sections. First, we address the so-called definition dilemma, which requires translation of technical understanding of AI into a precise application scope of new regulation. Second, we question the feasibility of different proposed solutions that range from transparency to human oversight of AI systems. Third, we examine the assumptions behind the EU’s risk-based approach towards technology regulation in general. And finally, we question the purpose and objectives of the AIA: do we really need AI-specific regulation in the first place? What would be the alternative ways to envision our AI-infused futures?

Anna-Mari Rusanen

Anna-Mari Rusanen is a philosopher of artificial intelligence and cognitive sciences. Her research topics vary from the philosophical foundations of artificial intelligence to the societal implications of algorithmization, and from the nature of computational explanations to the representational accounts of cognitive systems.  Her recent work focuses on the roles that paradigmatic examples play in current debates on the societal implications of AI, such as in the context of the AI Act. Currently Rusanen works as an university lecturer in cognitive science, (Department of Digital Humanities, University of Helsinki), and as a senior advisor on scientific, societal and ethical aspects of AI in Ministry of Finance (Finnish Governance).

14 April - Jukka K. Nurminen

Quantum software - is it just software?

In this talk, we will discuss how quantum software is different from classical software, the new challenges it poses, and the new opportunities it brings to different application domains: in our case in particular, to machine learning. The computational thinking required for quantum programs is very different from classical programming. Understanding, creating, and testing quantum software has a steep learning curve. New ideas, competencies, and abstractions are needed to make quantum computing accessible to experts in the ICT field. While research on quantum hardware is very active, the work on quantum software and algorithms is still in its infancy.

Jukka K. Nurminen

Jukka K. Nurminen is a professor of computer science at the University of Helsinki. He has worked extensively on software research in the telecom industry at Nokia Research Center, in academia at Aalto University, and in applied research at VTT. His key research contributions are on energy-efficient software, mobile peer-to-peer networking, and cloud solutions but his experience ranges widely from applied optimization to AI, from network planning tools to mobile apps, and from software project management to tens of patented inventions. He has e.g. led the Green Big Data project with CERN and many research activities on mobile phone and cloud energy consumption. Currently, his main interests are in the engineering of machine learning systems, combining data science and high performance computing, and software development for quantum computers.

28 April - Maria Olkkonen

The role of prior knowledge in color perception

Color perception is computationally hard because the light signal arriving the retina confounds information about surface color and illumination color. Without constraints, it is not possible to estimate the color of objects from this signal. Statistical regularities in natural surfaces and illuminants, learned through interacting with our environment, may contribute to our ability to solve this computational problem and estimate surface color. In this talk, I will discuss perceptual phenomena such as memory colors, central tendency bias, and color categorization to highlight the role of prior knowledge in color perception and color constancy.

Maria Olkkonen

Maria Olkkonen is a principal color scientist at Microsoft and an adjunct professor at the University of Helsinki. She received her PhD in color perception at the University of Giessen in 2009, after which she worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania and at Rutgers University. She returned to the University of Helsinki in 2015 as an Academy Research Fellow and simultaneously worked as an assistant professor at Durham University in England. She joined Microsoft in 2021 to work on improving the image quality of AR displays. In her research, she has demonstrated the importance of prior knowledge and memory on color perception, investigated the neural underpinnings of object and color perception, and the development of color constancy in children. She is currently extending this research into AR/VR applications at Microsoft.