James DiCarlo, M.D., Ph.D. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
How does the brain give rise to the mind? In other words, how does neural activity give rise to thoughts and perceptions? This is one of the deepest questions in modern neuroscience, and we propose to approach it by studying how monkeys perceive visual objects. Such “visual object recognition” is a critical step to understanding the environment, and it underlies such diverse cognitive processes such as judgment, planning, and decision-making. Yet, how the brain’s neural circuits work together to decipher complex visual scenes remains a mystery. To tackle this challenging problem, we propose to record the electrical activity of hundreds of neurons across multiple brain areas that underlie visual object recognition in monkeys. We will also develop a computational model that links neural activity in these brain regions to the visual object perceived by the monkey. Our model will be able to predict the perception of the monkey from the measured neural activity. Because monkeys have very similar visual systems to humans, we expect that this work will directly inform how the human brain is solving these same problems.