One of the most enigmatic and arguably the hardest problems in neuroscience is to understand the biological basis of consciousness.
Conscious visual perception has been postulated as a favorable form of consciousness to study, and has therefore, been the subject of scientific investigation. While much is known about the functional specialization pertaining to individual regions of the primate visual system, how this neural machinery together realizes subjective visual perception remains to be understood. Importantly, investigating how perception aids higher cognitive function is central to a holistic understanding of how brain produces behavior. Evidently, scrutinizing how the neural machinery, gives rise to visual perception and cognition, could also provide insights into a more general understanding of what is consciousness.
Neural correlates of conscious visual perception in the primate brain
Unravelling the neural substrates underlying visual perception is a major focus of the lab. We investigate this in the visual system of primates, while they participate in psychophysical paradigms. These paradigms are capable of inducing fluctuations in perception without a change in the sensory input, which enables disentangling sensory input from subjective perception. Together with this, we probe the primate brain with tools ranging from multi-electrode arrays to imaging in order to investigate brain-wide activity patterns and inter-regional interactions mediating perception. Our goal is to interrogate this question at multiple spatio-temporal scales, ranging from microscopic (single neuron) and mesoscopic (local field potential) to the macroscopic (functional imaging). In combination with analytical approaches derived from machine learning and dynamical systems, we aim to constrain computational models, and gain insights into the neural algorithms underlying visual perception.
Disambiguating neural circuits underlying perception and cognition
Brain structures such as the prefrontal cortex (PFC) are considered essential for mediating cognitive processes, which support the temporal organization of behavior. Therefore, a plethora of cognitive processes, such as behavioral planning, task monitoring, action selection and decision making are attributed to this region of the brain. Moreover, our previous work has further suggested that certain task related processes (trial phase) and conscious perception are mediated by functionally segregated populations in the PFC (Kapoor et al, 2018). While considered as confounds in the study of perception, such cognitive factors are important constituents enabling appropriate behavior. However, it remains unclear, if there are shared or separate neural architectures and computational principles, that underlie perceptual phenomena and cognitive function. Importantly, how different sub-regions of the PFC mediate such a multitude of functions in coordination with other brain regions remains yet to be understood. We aim to tackle this scientific problem, by designing perceptual paradigms, wherein behavior can be appropriately decomposed, so as to allow a systematic characterization of its underlying constituent cognitive variables. Combining this with theoretical approaches, could help understand the relationship and disentangling the neural mechanisms underlying perception from cognition.