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These lectures are based on a course given to graduate and senior undergraduate students of computer science, psychology and neuroscience at both the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia and Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada.

Overview of content

Section 1 The nature of understanding
Why we need hierarchies of description to understand anything; how we understand very complex electronic systems; the nature of understanding in the physical sciences; what understanding the brain means

Section 2 The phenomena of higher cognition
The major types of memory – semantic, episodic, priming, procedural, and working memory; speech; complex cognitive tasks; human consciousness and self awareness

Section 3 The anatomy and physiology of the brain
How the brain fits together; the properties of neurons, axons and dendrites; the chemistry of neurons; the major anatomical structures – cortex, hippocampus, thalamus, basal ganglia, basal forebrain, amygdala, hypothalamus, cerebellum

Section 4 Architectural constraints imposed by practical considerations
Practical considerations that influence system architectures – the need to limit resources, to change features without interference with existing unchanged features, the need to construct the system etc.; how these practical considerations shape the architecture of electronic systems into some specific forms; why analogous practical considerations acting through natural selection shape the architecture of the brain into specific but qualitatively different forms; why the architectural forms make hierarchies of description for the brain possible

Section 5 Evidence for the architectural constraints in the brain
How the anatomy and physiology of the brain confirms the presence of the predicted architectural forms; how major anatomical structures correspond with the information processing subsystems predicted by the natural selection pressures resulting from the practical considerations

Section 6 Understanding attention and the different types of memory
How to create hierarchies of description for the major cognitive phenomena – semantic and episodic memory, priming, working memory and procedural memory; using the hierarchies of description to understand the major phenomena in terms of major anatomy, detailed anatomy, physiology and chenistry

Section 7 Understanding higher cognition and consciousness
Using the hierarchies of description to understand cognitive phenoma from solving specific cognitive problems to the stream of consciousness and self awareness