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Understanding Cognition Understanding Cognition

One major goal of HBP is to use simulation of multi-scale models to uncover the neural mechanisms underlying cognitive processes, such as learning, perception, sleep, consciousness, and associated systems phenomena.


Current Phase

In the current phase of the HBP, the following cognitive and system neuroscience phenomena are being investigated:

The results from our research provide the framework for the development of computational models of cognitive and systems-level processes, which can be implemented in robots and neuromorphic computing systems. We address these issues at multiple levels (cells, groups, networks, brain systems) and work to unify different disciplines.

How does the brain create a representation of an object from multisensory information? Imagine an apple — its greenness, sour taste and fresh smell; how does the brain create an invariant representation from these multiple sensory inputs? This question is crucial since these representations are the basis for higher cognitive processes such as category formation, reasoning and language. One of our goals is to develop a "deep learning" neuronal network that learns to recognize objects and functions in a way similar to real neurobiological systems.

One of the deepest unsolved problems in science is the nature of consciousness - how is consciousness generated by the brain? There are several clinical and ethical problems that limit how we can address this question, such as assessing the level of consciousness in patients following brain injury. Novel ways to measure consciousness levels will make clinicians less dependent on purely behavioral measurements; this will benefit, for example, coma patients. Similarly, how can disparate phenomena such as sleep and wakefulness emerge from the same cortico-thalamic systems in the brain? To answer this question, we will investigate slow-wave activity and simulations of large populations of firing neurons in mice and humans.

Finally, we investigate brain mechanisms of memory. Episodic memory, pertaining to our personal, conscious experiences set within space and time, defines who we are. The brain's ability to recall objects and experiences from multisensory information (e.g. vision, hearing or touch) is key to understanding human memory. We are conducting a coordinated series of experiments to identify the neuronal mechanisms behind episodic memory, and validate them by computational models and robotic systems. Again, hierarchical cortex-like models play an important role, but this time these are focused on the processing of visual and tactile properties of objects.

Our cross-disciplinary approach, which cuts across multiple levels of neural and brain organization, will work to elucidate mind-brain relationships that have previously been all too elusive. In doing so, we will closely collaborate with other Subprojects.

The projects and partners stated below were selected as the best out of 57 research consortia across Europe who competed together to form a new Subproject on Systems and Cognitive Neuroscience. This new Subproject succeeded the first subproject 3 on Cognitive Architectures. The work of the new Subproject 3 started in April 2016, under the Specific Grant Agreement Phase 1 (SGA1).

Historically activities, Ramp-up Phase: October 2013 - March 2016

Between October 2013 and March 2016, HBP funded researchers analysed the architecture for several cognitive functions, e.g.: perception-action; motivation, decision and reward; learning & memory; space, time & numbers; sensory and multimodal perception; and, other characteristic capabilities of the human brain. We developed localiser protocols for these functions, and acquired unique benchmark data for modellers to work with HBP theoreticians to translate these into cognitive models. These focused on two theoretical models, cognitive architectures for spatial navigation and visual action recognition.