Public Lecture: Prof. Björn Merker – Cracks in the cortical consensus: Recent empirical findings that bear on consciousness theory

Event Start Date:
26. September 2024
Event End Date:
26. September 2024
Event Venue:

On 26th of September 2024, Prof. Björn Merker will hold a public lecture in our forum:

An overwhelming consensus regarding the locus of consciousness assigns it to cortical mechanisms. Besides the intuitive appeal of assigning what is presumed to be a sophisticated function to an organ that is exceptionally developed in ourselves, a number of empirical findings have been taken to support this identification. One is the claim that severing the commissures that connect the two sides of the cerebral cortex leaves the patient with two separate and independent consciousnesses. Another is the claim that loss of the primary visual cortex leaves the patient able to respond to stimuli in the affected part of the visual field but bereft of all phenomenal visual experience in the same (so called blind sight). A third is empirical evidence that activation of two parts of cortical circuitry, the so called feed-forward and feed-back components of cortical counter-current organization, must converge and interact for a given stimulus event to be consciously perceived. There are, however, rather recently accrued empirical findings on each of these issues that compromise their support for a cortical locus of consciousness. I will review these challenges to the cortical consensus, and relate them to more general characteristics of cortical organization that militate against its filling the role of “organ of consciousness”.

Björn Merker is a neuroscientist in retirement. He has longstanding interests in systems neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and brain mechanisms of consciousness. He obtained his doctorate from the Department of Psychology and Brain Science at M.I.T. in 1980 for work on the mammalian superior colliculus. Since then he has worked on oculomotor physiology in cats, on the primary visual cortex in macaques, on song development and mirror self-recognition in gibbons, and on the evolutionary and developmental background to human music and language. In retirement he has continued theoretical work related to both the latter topics as well as consciousness.

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