The Eye's Mind: Studying the Workings of Our Visual Cortex
The human visual system is an extremely sophisticated piece of biological machinery, comprising dozens of separate structures that occupy nearly half the brain. When healthy, the system functions remarkably well, guiding our behaviour and providing a detailed description of our surroundings. When impaired, our lives are deeply affected.
Canada Research Chair Dr. Christopher Pack studies the visual cortex, trying to find out how neurons communicate information about the visual world. Using electrophysiological techniques, he and his research team "eavesdrop" on neurons as they process information about the visual world and relay it to their neighbours. These conversations are a type of code, in effect the software that makes the brain's hardware capable of vision.
Through his research, Dr. Pack is developing a deep, quantitative understanding of this neural code. By combining neurophysiological data with mathematical modelling, he intends to discover the computations that underlie our visual experience. In addition, by temporarily inactivating small brain regions while monitoring activity in others, he hopes to understand what happens when cortical areas fail to function properly.
In the long term, Dr. Pack's work at McGill has potential benefits, both in the treatment of people with visual impairments and in the development of artificial visual systems. More generally, his research is providing us with a better understanding of how the brain processes information.