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A Cell Assembly is a term used to describe structures that scientists believe to be present in the human brain. According to the theory put forward by Donald Hebb, the connections between neurons (brain cells) can strengthen and weaken, depending on how they are stimulated ("fire"), and, as a result, cells learn to co-operate to form self-sustaining networks. These are cell assemblies, and neuroscientists believe that these are responsible for cognitive functions such as storing knowledge and reasoning.

Cell assemblies can co-operate to represent more complex concepts

Cell assemblies can be simulated in a computer and used to store knowledge. For instance, if cell assemblies were created to store the features fur, paws and eats mice, they could learn to fire together to represent "cat". Furthermore, the assemblies for fur and paws could fire together with herds sheep to represent "dog".

Overlapping cell assemblies has the added advantage of using the neurons more efficiently. In the cat/dog example, the cells used to store four concepts can actually be used to store six. My thesis investigated how many cell assemblies could be stored with a given number of neurons, and concluded that as the number of cells, n, increased, the number of cell assemblies that could be stored increased in proportion to n2.

To see a PDF copy of the thesis itself (opens in a separate window), click on the link below.