A neuroscientist and engineer, Daniel Wolpert studies how the brain controls the body.
Consider your hand. You use it to lift things, to balance yourself, to give and take, to sense the world. It has a range of interacting degrees of freedom, and it interacts with many different objects under a variety of environmental conditions. And for most of us, it all just works. At his lab in the Engineering department at Cambridge, Daniel Wolpert and his team are studying why, looking to understand the computations underlying the brain's sensorimotor control of the body.
As he says, "I believe that to understand movement is to understand the whole brain. And therefore it’s important to remember when you are studying memory, cognition, sensory processing, they’re there for a reason, and that reason is action.” Movement is the only way we have of interacting with the world, whether foraging for food or attracting a waiter's attention. Indeed, all communication, including speech, sign language, gestures and writing, is mediated via the motor system. Taking this viewpoint, and using computational and robotic techniques as well as virtual reality systems, Wolpert and his team research the purpose of the human brain and the way it determines future actions.
“I am a movement chauvinist.”
“There can be no evolutionary advantage to laying down memories of childhood or perceiving the color of a rose if it doesn’t affect the way you’re going to move later in life.”
“We have a brain for one reason and one reason only — and that’s to produce adaptable and complex movements.”
“You may reason that we have [brains] to perceive the world or to think, and that’s completely wrong.”