Sten Grillner, Nobel Institute for Neurophysiology,
171 77 Stockholm, Sweden
William A. Phillips, University of Stirling, Stirling, Scotland, U.K.
Steve Silverstein, Division of Schizophrenia Research, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey,
Piscataway, New Jersey, U.S.A.
Wolf Singer, Max Planck Institute for Brain Research, 60528 Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Olaf Sporns, Department of Psychology, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, U.S.A.
Christoph von der Malsburg, Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
To explore the mechanisms and manifestations of distributed dynamic coordination in the brain and mind across species and levels of organization.
The human mind effortlessly and flexibly coordinates its various resources into coherent percepts, thoughts, and actions as appropriate to the current circumstances. How this is accomplished, however, has been an issue of long-standing debate. Identifying the underlying principles of dynamic coordination and exploring the commonalities across disciplinary perspectives is the challenge to be addressed by this Forum.
A pervasive idea holds that coordination is the result of interpretation and strategic planning by a central executive, possibly housed in the prefrontal cortex. Conceptual difficulties with this concept and evidence from several different disciplines suggests, however, that coordination is predominantly distributed, that it arises from local interaction and self-organization within and between the brain's elements themselves.
To approach our goal, we must overcome the fact that the classic concept of self-organization does not incorporate goal orientation, which is the hallmark of strategic planning in the mind. Including it without falling back into the fallacy of top-down coordination is necessary.
Mental coordination finds powerful expression in the integration of polymodal percepts and the planning of motor patterns. Central mechanisms of coordination include focused attention and working memory. Each subsystem is simultaneously exposed to a multitude of competing signals, from which attention selects functionally corresponding elements, thus resolving the ambiguity as to what relates to what. It is thus necessary to address the physiological mechanisms by which functionally related elements are selected as well as the computational theories that have been invoked to describe coordination in neural systems.
Coordination requires vast amounts of knowledge (priors). Sources of this knowledge are evolution, early imprinting, and adaptive learning. In return, a better understanding of the mechanisms of coordination could have major consequences for the study of learning, because learning cannot encompass all neuronal activity, but only those patterns that are recognized as coherent and relevant.
Coordination of parts of a system into one coherent, functional whole is the essence of what is termed organization. Over the years, brain theory and research into neural networks has succeeded in prying apart the various parts of the neuronal system. Specialization has indeed advanced our understanding of the individual parts; however, this reductionist approach needs to be complemented with a comprehensive effort to understand how distributed functions are coordinated into a coherent whole. Through this Forum we hope to engage neurobiologists, psychologists, and theoreticians in a discourse that will traverse disciplinary understanding and expose new avenues to pursue, and perhaps even initiate, a paradigm shift.Top of page
From Neurons to Mind
Christoph von der Malsburg, William A. Phillips and