December 12, 2023
On Monday, December 4, 2023, the French-American Foundation—United States welcomed Moran Cerf, a professor of neuroscience and business, as a guest speaker for our December Transatlantic Forum dinner at Lena in the West Village. In a presentation entitled “Three ideas from neuroscience that were discovered in the last 10 years and will shape the next 10 years,” Professor Cerf discussed his research, his findings, and the many ways in which neuroscience shapes our world by shaping our perception of reality.
French-American Foundation—United States President, Caroline Naralasetty, introduced Professor Cerf, citing his many accomplishments and accolades, including his prolific career working in the pharmaceutical, film, and cyber security industries, as well as his work to make his research accessible to others through his numerous TED talks.
During an especially fascinating presentation, Professor Cerf focused on three key areas in neuroscience from the last decade: memory, human senses, and sleep. Professor Cerf described his own research on the inner workings of memory. He referenced a lab test that asked subjects to make choices from pictures. Later, subjects were asked to explain why they selected one picture over the other. His findings from these tests revealed that humans tend to retroactively justify choices, even in the case of misremembering. Memories work like a telephone game, Professor Cerf explained, and change slightly whenever we recall them. While this discovery can be used to help people cope with trauma, it also shows how vulnerable memories are.
Similarly, our perception of ourselves and the world can be altered through our senses. Our reality is limited by what we can sense. Professor Cerf explained that senses can be changed, and in doing so, our way of interacting with the world can be altered. He discussed one experiment that illustrated this point: the senses of one animal were plugged into another completely different animal. The second receiving animal did not originally possess the ability to feel these senses, however, researchers found that with time, the second animal was able to adapt and make use of its new senses. These findings show that senses, like memories, are susceptible to change and alteration. Professor Cerf asked the audience: what modalities can we add to a person to make them better? He also highlighted the downside of these advancements, asking Transatlantic Forum members to envision a world where we cannot control our own senses.
Professor Cerf concluded his presentation by examining the research around sleep, particularly dreams. He stated that various findings have shown that there is a possibility to control what people see in their dreams. While dreaming, humans are in a vulnerable state and while unguarded, can be more susceptible to outside change, especially with the use of neural implants. All of these findings hold much promise for the future, so long as they are not used maliciously.
During an energetic Q&A session over a delicious family-style dinner, Forum members asked questions that touched on topics such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), free will, the connection between neuroscience, consumerism and business, addiction, and the future of regulations on neuroscientific advances.
Thank you to Professor Cerf and our Forum members for an enthralling conversation.