Semir Zeki. A re-appraisal of brain strategies for constructing the visual image

Monday, 5 September, 2016 - 10:00 to 11:30

Results from a variety of sources, some many years old, lead ineluctably to a re-appraisal of the twin strategies of hierarchical and parallel processing used by the brain to construct an image of the visual world. Contrary to common supposition, there are at least three "feed-forward" anatomical hierarchies that reach the primary visual cortex (V1) and the specialized visual areas outside it, in parallel. These anatomical hierarchies do not conform to the temporal order with which visual signals reach the specialized visual areas through V1. Furthermore, neither the anatomical hierarchies nor the temporal order of activation through V1 predict the perceptual hierarchies. The latter shows that we see (and become aware of) different visual attributes at different times, with colour leading form (orientation) and directional visual motion, even though signals from fast moving, high contrast, stimuli are among the earliest to reach the visual cortex (of area V5). Parallel processing, on the other hand, is much more ubiquitous than commonly supposed, but is subject to a barely noticed but fundamental aspect of brain operations, namely that different parallel systems operate asynchronously with respect to each other and reach perceptual end-points at different times. This re-assessment leads to the conclusion that the visual brain is constituted of multiple, parallel and asynchronously operating task- and stimulus-dependent hierarchies (STDH); which of these parallel anatomical hierarchies has temporal and perceptual precedence at any given moment is stimulus- and task-related, and dependent upon the visual brain's ability to undertake multiple operations asynchronously.

Semir Zeki, 

University College London, UK