Monday, March 27, 2006

Waiting for my degree

I am done! Five minutes ago I mailed the final version of my masters thesis "The Neurobiology of Conscious Vision", to both professors that have to grade it. All I need to do now is wait till april 28th, talk about my USA-research project for 15 minutes and take my masters degree in Neuroscience and Cognition home! This talk will be a repetition of the talk I will give for a Neuroscience symposium at our medical centre and close to what I presented my USA lab in november last year, so that won't be a terrible lot of work. This week I well spend a couple of hours at my job at the electronics store and from monday I will be employment by the University. this means I can feed my curiosity about the functoining of the brain and visual system and get paid for it! How 'bout that?

My book order from amazon arrived last week. I haven't had the chance to look at all of them very well, but Christof Koch's 'the Quest for Conscious" is a pretty complete work. Margaret Wilson's 'Vision and art' is not as complete, but offers a nice basic desription of the visual system and the relation to artworks. How do we perceive art and why do we like it; a nice book for both artists and people with an interest in science. Another book on this topic I expect a lot of is Al Seckel's "masters of deception; Escher, Dali and the artists of optical illussions". Escher and Dali have always been two of my favorite artists, and study-wize I am very interested in optical illusions, so this should be a great book! Unfortunately it ships slowly, but hopefully it's worth the wait.

For the interested few, here's the abstract of my master thesis;

PC Klink - The Neurobiology of Conscious Vision - Abstract

The large amount of information that is present in our visually oriented world presents our brain with the need to process that information in an efficient way. This means we will not be aware of every aspect of the visual scene. The question of how the brain decides what part of information we will be conscious of and what will be kept from awareness has been avoided by the field of neuroscience because of the proposed impossibility to objectively research subjective experience. About a decade ago the topic regained interest because of a newly formulated approach, focusing on the content of conscious experience not the ‘what-is-it-like’ question. The primate visual system has been used as system to study the processes behind visual stimuli that we are aware of and those that do not reach awareness. Many studies have been performed in clinical cases of blindsight and neglect in which neural activity can be used by the brain, but does not reach awareness. Experiments on binocular rivalry and ambiguity can show neural activity to correlate with a stimulus or a percept. Findings from these experiments can help us lead the way in the search for the neural correlates of consciousness. This can be a brain area, but also a process. Here, I review the choices that have been made for a strategy to study conscious visual perception and discuss the experimental findings in the light of a theory of consciousness. The many existing theories on visual awareness seem to have more in common than one might think at first sight, and much of the disagreement seems to be based on a too strict use of own terminology, rather than fundamental differences. A fast feedforward mechanism from early visual areas to frontoparietal regions contains unconscious visual information that the brain uses to guide behavior or modulate conscious vision. A later feedback projection from higher visual areas back to earlier visual areas is essential for visual consciousness. The content of this consciousness is determined by competition between neural correlates of stimulus features, that is biased by bottom-up mechanisms determining feature strength and top-down mechanisms of expectation, emotion and attention. Looking back, it seems that neuroscience has chosen the right approach towards a neurobiological theory of (visual) consciousness. There is still a long way to go, but the recent progressions are promising.