What are my Scientific Interests?
- To understand how consciousness is linked to
the brain, how the flickering activity of myriad of nerve cells leads
to ineffable experiences, of seeing blue, of being warmed by the sun,
or of being scared by exposure on a climb. I shared this passion
with Dr. Francis Crick
at the Salk Institute. Over close to two decades, we wrote,
talked, thought, and discussed ways and means to discover and
characterize the neuronal correlates of consciousness (the
NCC). For a summary, see this
essay that appeared in Nature Neuroscience in 2003. A photo-essay and the cover story from the
LA Weekly provide a different view.
- I'm also interested in a theory of consciousness, a formal
framework - formulated using the idiom of information theory - that
explains what consciousness is, which system can have subjective
experiences and why in functional terms. Such a theory would imply
that a computer, properly programmed as to mimic the functional
connectivity of the human brain, could be consciousness. Together
with Giulio Tononi, a
neuroscientist at the University of Madison in Wisconsin working on
such a theory of Integrated Information, I recently surveyed what we can learn about
biological consciousness and apply to machine sentience (and how we can teach a machine
to truly understand the movie Blade Runner).
- Francis passed away in 2004, leaving a profound gap in my life. I
worked with him since the late 1980s, writing close to two dozen
papers and book chapters with him, and came to love and admire him as
a mentor, a scientist and as a friend. I miss him dearly.
Martin Packer maintains an exhaustive
web-site about Francis, his written legacy and his scientific
- This research has made its way into a book for a general scientific
for Consciousness: A Neuroscientific Approach. The book discusses
our framework for how consciousness, the subjective mind, arises out
of the flickering interactions within the neurons of the cerebral
cortex and related structures (its useful glossary is online).
- I am associated with the Association for the Scientific Study of
Consciousness (ASSC), promoting research within cognitive
science, neuroscience, philosophy, and other relevant
disciplines in the sciences and humanities, directed toward
understanding the nature, function, and underlying mechanisms
of consciousness. Its next meeting will
take place in June 2010 in Toronto, Canada.
- Understanding selective visual attention, its purpose and its
actions. Our laboratory takes a multi-disciplinary approach to this
question, using sophisticated psychophysical assays, functional brain
imaging of normal observers as well as large scale computer models of
the primate visual system. We also write sophisticated and real-time
machine vision implementations of saliency-based attentional