TOWARD ANIMAL MODELS OF ATTENTION AND CONSCIOUSNESS

Abstract

Christof Koch
TOWARDS THE NEUROPHYSIOLOGICAL AND MOLECULAR TOOLS TO IDENTIFY THE NEURONAL CORRELATES OF CONSCIOUSNESS

Much excitement has been generated in the scientific community by electrophysiological techniques of recording from individual neurons in the behaving monkey that, combined with functional brain imaging in humans, will enable us to begin to study the neuronal basis of subjective, conscious experience. In particular, researchers are interested in discovering and characterizing the neuronal correlates of consciousness (NCC). The cerebral cortex and associated structures are amazingly complex. In order to understand the neuronal basis of memory, cognition and consciousness we will need to interfere delicately, deliberately and specifically with discrete subpopulations of neurons. This requires the ability to target genetically identifiable populations of neurons in the adult animal in a reversible manner. As experiments of direct relevance to the search for the NCC are being carried out almost exclusively in primates, this limits the applicability of these increasingly powerful molecular biology tools. It is the mouse which has proven to be the most effective mammalian model system for the development of these techniques. I will argue that in order to make further progress on the difficult questions relating to the NCC, we need to develop a robust mouse model for behaviors that can be shown to involve one form or another of consciousness. This will then allow us to identify areas in cortex or populations of neurons within cortex and associated structures responsible for these behaviors than can be manipulated in a controllable manner. The overall research strategy is to identify behaviors in rodents that require conscious awareness in humans under the reasonable assumption that most mammals possess at least rudimentary forms of sensory awareness and consciousness. I will discuss several such possible approaches, focussing on olfactory and the vomeronasal system, classical conditioning and fear-conditioning involving the amygdala. For more information, see http://www.klab.caltech.edu/~koch/unconscious-homunculus.html

Sunday, April 11, 2021
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