Mike Wiest

Associate Professor of Neuroscience

Mission: to determine the distributed neural substrate of perception.

I’m interested in the physical basis of consciousness. What is it about the matter in a living brain that makes it experience perceptions, feelings, and thoughts? A first step in the neuroscientific approach to this perplexing question is to relate the activities of neurons to different mental states. My research focuses on sensory integration in rats, attempting to understand how neural activity in different parts of the brain gets combined or coordinated to generate a single coherent perception.
Because we can only infer mental states in rats from their behavior, I record electrical impulses from many neurons at once while the rats perform behavioral tasks that depend on correctly sensing particular stimuli. Understanding the neural mechanisms of perception could lead to insights into human disorders that disrupt normal perceptual integration, such as Alzheimer’s disease, dyslexia, or attention deficit disorder.
I enjoy teaching neuroscience in my lab and in classes at all levels of the curriculum from our introductory course (NEUR 100) to our senior capstone seminar (NEUR 300). In our intermediate course, Neurons, Networks, and Behavior (NEUR 200), we discuss the neurophysiology of learning and memory, sensory and motor systems, disorders of the nervous system such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, and end with a focus on sleep, attention, and consciousness. In the lab we experience important neuroscientific methods, such as staining and slicing brains for histological analysis, and extra- and intra-cellular electrophysiological recordings in crayfish.
In my upper-level Computational Neuroscience course (NEUR 335), we learn how mathematical modeling and computer simulation can provide insight into the brain’s impressive functions. Along the way we learn MATLAB, a powerful but user-friendly computing language.
I have also recently enjoyed teaching a first-year seminar (NEUR 125) called “Brains, Minds, and Machines: Intelligence and Consciousness.” In this course we get a taste of MATLAB programming while exploring the nature of human and artificial intelligence from biological, psychological, and computer science perspectives.
I also like to play rock and roll guitar, go on backpacking trips, and practice aikido.


  • B.A., Dartmouth College
  • M.S., Michigan State University
  • Ph.D., Michigan State University

Current and upcoming courses

  • How is intelligent behavior produced by the brain and how can it be replicated in machines? What role, if any, does our conscious experience play in producing intelligent behavior? This seminar explores human intelligence through the perspectives of neuroscience, cognitive science, and computer science, integrating studies of the brain, the mind, and the computations needed to create intelligent machines. This interdisciplinary approach has accelerated the pace of research aimed at understanding how intelligent agents use vision to recognize objects and events; navigate through a complex, dynamic environment; use language to communicate; and develop a conscious awareness of the world. Through exploration of current research and hands-on computer activities, students will learn about methods used to probe neural circuits and visualize brain activity; investigate human performance and behavior; and build computer models that capture the remarkable abilities of biological systems.