Thursday, June 20, 2013

David Eagleman - Unsolved Mysteries of Neuroscience: The Binding Problem

This brief article comes from Big Think's In Their Own Words series of posts. Big Think interviews experts who are either at the top of their fields or disrupting their fields. This blog presents key ideas from the experts in their own words.

Neuroscientist David Eagleman is author, most recently, of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain (2011). For more on what we do NOT know about the brain, see his 2007 article in Discover Magazine, 10 Unsolved Mysteries of the Brain.

Unsolved Mysteries of Neuroscience: The Binding Problem

JUNE 16, 2013

The binding problem is when you look at what's happening in the brain, you find there's a division of labor. You have some parts of your brain that care about vision, some about hearing, some about touch. And even within a system, like vision, you have parts that care about colors, parts that care about orientations, parts that care about angles. And how this all comes together so that you have a unified perception of the world is one of the unsolved mysteries in neuroscience.

We’re not aware of that division of labor. Everything seems like it’s perfectly unified to us. So this is still something we’re all working on.

One thing that's very clear to us now, though, is that vision is not like a camera. It’s not like light signals hit your eye and work their way up to the top and they move up some hierarchy and then they get seen. Instead, vision is all about internal activity that's already happening in your head and there's a little bit of data that comes up these cables and modifies or modulates that activity. But, essentially, all you're ever seeing is your internal model of what you believe you're seeing out there.

So this is a very different viewpoint from what is presented in college textbooks on vision. In other words, even the textbooks need to catch up on what we already know about how perception actually works.

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock


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