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Distance Vision and Rise of Consciousness

March 20, 2017 at 12:00 pm - 2:00 pm
| CETLS, Room S510D

Presented by David Edelmann, University of California, San Diego

The ability to resolve distant objects within a complex scene likely emerged during the Cambrian explosion, a period characterized by the rapid emergence of new sensory innovations, including every major type of eye found in living vertebrates and invertebrates. Here, I suggest that early distance vision and its underlying neural circuitry provided the first critical substrates for sensory consciousness. Seeing objects from afar opened a new temporal domain within which monitoring for salience (e.g., identifying and tracking predators or prey) and making predictions about future outcomes became both practicable and highly adaptive.

Monitoring a dynamic visual scene and making useful predictions must necessarily rely on an ongoing linkage between perception and memory: a connection that, some suggest, is a contingency of consciousness. Animals with single-compartment eyes and focusing lenses—two obvious markers for distance vision—might conceivably possess the recursive circuitry necessary for linking perception to memory, and therefore experience conscious states. The octopus is one such animal. In fact, acute vision is prominent among the sensory systems of all coleoid cephalopods: highly effective predators with sophisticated vision-based learning and memory faculties. Yet, the mechanisms underlying cephalopod vision (i.e., those submodal properties that are most salient to the behaving animal and their associated neuroanatomical substrates and electrophysiological signatures) remain elusive. Future characterization of these mechanisms could provide the foundation for a research program in which the octopus provides a test case for conscious states in an animal quite distant from the vertebrate line. Moreover, probing the octopus visual system could conceivably help identify neuroanatomical and neurophysiological properties of conscious states that are universal among animals with sophisticated sensory faculties and complex nervous systems, regardless of profound morphological differences and divergent evolutionary histories.

Part of the Social Sciences colloquium series and is open to all faculty. For more information, contact Marjan Persuh (Social Sciences).

March 20
12:00 PM - 2:00 PM
Open to:
The BMCC Community