Donnerstag 21.01.2021 15:00 — 16:30
Online Event

Virtual Lecture by Andreas Nieder: Sensory Consciousness in a Bird Brain

The evolution of our sensory consciousness – the awareness and ability to report our subjective experiences about stimuli - is one of the greatest riddles in biology. Traditionally, a layered cerebral cortex – found only in primates and other mammals – is thought to be a prerequisite for the emergence of consciousness. Some birds, such as members of the crow family, also show sophisticated cognitive behaviors suggesting conscious experiences. However, in contrast to mammals, birds have evolved radically different brain structures without a cerebral cortex since they diverged from the primate lineage 320 million years ago. To address the question of consciousness without a cerebral cortex, we trained crows to detect ambiguous visual stimuli at perceptual threshold. We show that single-neuron activity in the endbrain of crows correlate with the birds’ perception about the presence or absence of a stimulus. These data provide an empirical marker of avian consciousness and helps to explain how activity giving rise to conscious awareness is processed in the bird brain. We conclude that consciousness emerged either before or at least independently from the mammalian lineage, and does not require a cerebral cortex in all animals.


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