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Welcome! I’m Yohan J. John, a Research Assistant Professor at Boston University.

Here’s my Quora profile. Feel free to ask me a question about neuroscience, philosophy, or popular music!

I also write long-form essays for the blog 3 Quarks Daily. Here’s a list.

I’ve been organizing discussion groups related to computational neuroscience. You can find the videos on my youtube channel: NeuroLogos.


More info:

I study cognitive-emotional interaction using neural network models. In particular, I focus on circuits involving the limbic system, which includes the amygdala, the medial prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus. Some of my work looks into the neural bases of psychiatric disorders. I work in a neuroanatomy lab, so my research is part of a unique inter-disciplinary project linking structural and connectional understanding with theoretical modeling. My PhD thesis was on interval timing — I developed a computational model of reinforcement learning-driven flexible timing in the basal ganglia.

Before entering the messy world of neuroscience I studied physics. I received a  bachelor’s degree from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, and a master’s from IIT Bombay. Most of my schooling (1992-2001) happened in a little town called Coonoor, nestled in the Nilgiri mountain range of South India. Prior to that my family lived in the US.


4 thoughts on “About

  1. I follow your blog via Quora and while I am not a scientist, I have a huge interest in Neuroscience and read widely. What I am sharing are additional ideas that I have as a layperson. On your post about dreaming — I think what you wrote is noteworthy. I would add that I think the purpose of dreaming also includes sorting unprocessed memories and finding a relevant (time, emotion, type of event, etc — so many categories) neural cluster, or clusters, for storage and retrieval. The more significant and disturbing the event, the longer it takes to process,i.e., recurring dreams?

    On the post about mirror neurons and empathy. Perhaps the mirror neurons “understand” the emotions via energy waves of varying lengths and intensities — there has to be a physical component involved. I’m still thinking about all this and so appreciate reading your work. Perhaps you don’t wish to hear from laypeople who have no scientific background and I will understand if you don’t wish to reply. Your work is good.

    • Welcome Dixie! I’m very happy to receive comments from laypersons! That’s why I’m on Quora and why I try to blog for a wide audience.

      I think you’re right about dreaming… I didn’t get into all the computational possibilities of dreaming in that answer, but clustering and categorization are key aspects of neural processing, and I believe that ‘offline’ processing might be able to extract aspects of an experience that can’t be discerned while you are ‘in the moment’. My own dreams seem rarely to reoccur, so I don’t really know how emotional significance relates to replay.

      I’m not so sure about the connection between mirror neurons and empathy. Mirror neurons are found in many parts of the brain, and there is no direct evidence at all that they have anything to do with empathy. There haven’t actually been any direct recordings of mirror neurons in humans. The only types of energy that are relevant to neurons are (1) electrochemical energy released by neighboring neurons, and (2) energy from the external world that arrives at sensory cells: light (in the retina), sound (in the ear), and vibration, pressure and heat (on the skin), and chemical energy (in the smell and taste receptors). What mirror neurons do must be the result of a complex pattern of activity involving sensory processing and categorization. And whether mirror neurons are essential for empathy is a complete separate matter, which has to do with where the outputs of mirror neurons go. A neuron’s impact on behavior depends entirely of where in the nervous system its axons go.

      ‘Understanding’ is something that people do, not neurons. Neurons don’t ‘know’ or ‘understand’ anything. They only generate action potentials and release neurotransmitters. People understand phenomena through neural processes. We sometimes anthropomorphize cells like neurons, but it’s important to realize that concepts like thinking and understanding are only done by the whole organism, and not by parts. By the same token, it is the organism that digests food, not the stomach. It may seem like a pure semantic issue, but if we are not careful we can wind up making some errors that are both scientific and philosophical. (One such error has been recently called the ‘double subject fallacy‘, and many neuroscientists are guilty of it.)

      My point about mirror neurons is that people are using them as explanations, rather than as phenomena to be explained. The mere fact of firing of a cell cannot be an explanation of anything.

      Thanks for your comments! Feel free to post comments, questions, criticisms and suggestions! 🙂

  2. Hi Yohan, is your blog still active? Or have you completely removed to Quora? Are you still doing research? Where are you affiliated? (I don’t want to seem too curious, so please apologize.) Best wishes Hans-Peter

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