The Brain as a Phantastic Organ

Semester: SS 19
Lecturer: Univ.-Lekt. Ronald Sladky, PhD

In this course we explored different aspects about the brain and cognition. We started with some historical foundations in neuroscience and philosophy, then addressed the basic principles of neuronal action and brain functions. Finally we took some time to discuss fundamental paradigms in cognitive science and critically evaluate their scope and how they relate to popular conceptions of the brain and mind.

Karl Friston, one of world’s leading pioneers and authorities in human brain science, has called the brain a phantastic organ – derived from the Greek word phantastikos, the ability to create mental images (Friston et al., 2014). Contrary to earlier concepts of behaviorists that the brain is more or less a passive stimulus-response machine, the first and foremost function of the brain is that it constantly generates fantasies, or hypotheses, that are tested against sensory evidence. The purpose of these internal models about the world is to allow for better predictions about the future.


  • Estes, David; et al. “Children’s Understanding of Mental Phenomena.” Advances in Child Development and Behavior 22 (1989).
  • Motta; et al. “Knowing less but presuming more: Dunning-Kruger effects and the endorsement of anti-vaccine policy attitudes.” Social Science & Medicine 211 (2018): 274-281.
  • Clark, Andy. Surfing Uncertainty: Prediction, Action, and the Embodied Mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press USA, 2016.
  • Hamilton, William L. Saints and Psychopaths. San Jacinto California: Dharma Audio Network Associates, 1995.
  • Lehmann, D.; et al. “Brain sources of EEG gamma frequency during volitionally meditation-induced, altered states of consciousness, and experience of the self.” Psychiatry Res. 108, no. 2 (2001):111-121.
  • Lutz, A; et al. “Long-term meditators self-induce high-amplitude gamma synchrony during mental practice.” PNAS USA 101, no. 46 (2004):16369-16373.
  • Cahn, BR; Delorme, A; Polich, J. “Occipital gamma activation during Vipassana meditation.” Cognitive Processing 11, no. 1 (2010):39-56.
  • Berkovich-Ohana, A; Glicksohn, J; Goldstein, A. “Mindfulness-induced changes in gamma band activity – implications for the default mode network, self-reference and attention.” Clinical Neurophysiology 123, no.4 (2012):700-710. 

Individual Project
Format: Paper
Topic 1: Mind and Body
Topic 2: Predictive Processing in Meditation

The tasks included two short, written exams on some key concepts, one short and one long presentation on a self-selected topic of the course (e.g., consciousness, emotions, psychopathology, learning, free will, etc.) that includes an artistic/reflective/non-scientific form of expression (artwork, visualization, essay, poem, music, joke, etc.) and a presentation that covers a thorough theoretical elaboration that links back to the course topics.