August 8, 2007

Cognition, neuroscience poised for major breakthroughs

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. —The fields of cognition and neuroscience are poised for the same major unifying breakthroughs experienced by the physics and biology communities of the last century and a half, says John Wagner, manager of Sandia’s National Laboratories Cognitive and Exploratory Systems Department.

“In physics complex disparate observations were reconciled based on simple unifying fundamental principles. Examples include electricity and magnetism, thermodynamics and statistical mechanics, and Newtonian dynamics and relativity,” he says. “Similarly, the biological revolution started when the extreme complexity and variability of the biological world was unified based on the replication and application of simple rules embodied in the geometry of DNA.”

Today there is some understanding of the brain (neuroscience) and mind (cognitive psychology and behavior) at various levels, but there is no unifying basic understanding of them or the fundamental principles of structure and function that apply to them.

“Seeking this fundamental understanding from first principles, not just empirical observations, helps set the scientific direction for Sandia’s CS&T [cognitive Science and Technology] program,” Wagner says.

Sandia is a multiprogram laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a Lockheed Martin company, for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major R&D responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies, and economic competitiveness.

Sandia news media contact: Chris Burroughs,, (505) 844-0948