MBB Junior Symposium 2012: What is Reality? Perception in Wake, Sleep, and Psychosis


Saturday, September 8, 2012, 10:00am to 4:30pm


William James Hall, 33 Kirkland St.

Juniors and seniors who are completing the symposium requirement – and thus who will be attending the entire symposium – should pre-register at the bottom of the page by the end of the day Wednesday, September 5th.
This event is not open to the public.

The MBB junior symposium is an all-day meeting that features talks by and discussions with a variety of scholars on an interdisciplinary theme in mind/brain/behavior. The symposium will include speaker presentations, a lunch with speakers and MBB faculty, discussion groups, and closing panel. It is open to MBB juniors and those MBB seniors who did not attend the 2011 symposium. It is required of students pursuing the Certificate in MBB (students in honors MBB tracks) and is also open to students pursuing or considering a secondary field in MBB. This year we are also pleased to invite all MBB undergraduates to the morning talks.

The question, “What is reality?” is one that has generally been ceded to philosophers, with science having relatively little to say about it. In fact, science still has little to say about it. But it has become better and better at describing alterations in our perceptions of reality. We are all familiar with illusions that convince us that we are seeing, hearing, or feeling what we are not, and we are equally familiar with dreaming, which creates an impressively complex and convincing illusion of reality itself, deluding us each and every night into believing that reality is what it is not. These are “normal” errors in perceiving and judging reality. Others are less so, as in the case of many insomniacs who are in fact sound asleep much of the time that they perceive themselves as being awake. But the most dramatic examples come the world of psychopathology, where delusional perception can take over and cripple one’s entire life. In this symposium, we will describe each of these distortions of reality, and discuss what is known about their neurobiological causes. As a warm-up, you should read “Susie’s Reality,” a science fiction story that looks at the consequences of intentionally disrupting someone else’s sense of reality, and in so doing that raises questions about the reality of reality. [Note: "Susie's Reality" will be emailed to symposium pre-registrants.]

Note: Patients may be part of presentations, and time will be available for professional, sensitive questions.

10:00 am Registration (outside William James Hall 1)
10:15 Welcome and Introduction, Carole Hooven (William James Hall 1)

Daphne Holt
Life of a Delusion: How Does Every-Day Fear Become Persecution?

Matt Bianchi
Perceptual and Biological Dissociations: Challenges in the Diagnosis and Treatment of Sleep Disorders

Bob Stickgold
Sleep, Wake, and Dreams: Who Needs Them?
1:30 pm Lunch (William James 1550)
2:30 Discussion Groups (specific group assignments will be made at registration)
Group A: Matt Bianchi and Carole Hooven, William James 4
Group B: Ed Kravitz and Marie-Christine Nizzi, William James 422
Group C: Eric Mandelbaum and Bob Stickgold, William James 474
Group D: Daphne Holt and Matthew Tucker, William James 950
3:30 Closing Panel (William James 1)

Daphne Holt
Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School
Life of a Delusion: How Does Everyday Fear Become Persecution?
In this talk, Dr. Holt will first describe the clinical features of schizophrenia and the symptoms that comprise psychosis. Then she will discuss several models of one of the symptoms of psychosis, the delusion, and some of the existing evidence supporting those models. Real clinical cases will be used to illustrate the models. The talk will conclude with a brief discussion of current ideas about how the normal belief formation system is hijacked during delusion formation.

Matt Bianchi
Assistant Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School
Perceptual and Biological Dissociations: Challenges in the Diagnosis and Treatment of Sleep Disorders
What controls sleep-wake state switching and how does dysregulation in this system yield narcolepsy? How do we consciously perceive the state of being asleep and how does this process become deranged in patients with chronic insomnia? How accurately do we guage our own sleepiness when we make decisions such as whether to drive? These prototypical dissociations represent opportunities to advance our understanding of sleep disorders. We will discuss the physiology, pathophysiology, and representative patient cases to explore these concepts.

Bob Stickgold
Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School
Sleep, Wake, and Dreams: Who Needs Them?
Sleep is seen throughout the animal kingdom, but there is an impressive paucity of explanations of why. Dreaming, which can only be observed in humans, suffers from a similar dearth of functions. Yet sleep has held on tenaciously across vast evolutionary times. I'll try to convince the audience that we're much closer to an answer, and may even have one.)


Carole Hooven
Lecturer on Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University

Ed Kravitz
George Packer Berry Professor of Neurobiology, Harvard Medical School

Robert Stickgold
Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School