A Conceptual Ladder from Spikes to Behavior: Toward the Neural Basis of Dynamic Choices at Multiple Scales

AbstractReducing cognitive phenomena to neural activity is seen by many as lacking in scientific utility. The conceptual chasm between electrochemical activity and the act of making a choice is too broad to span in a single step. Instead, we adopt a multi-scale approach to cognitive neuroscience by constructing a conceptual ladder that incrementally climbs from neuronal spikes to cognitive processes with each step offering theoretic reductions. Here we propose a sequence of intermediate neurocomputational processes that are promising for understanding an array of cognitive phenomena. We illustrate this approach in the context of the dynamics of choice. These dynamics emerge from serial evaluation mediated by systems in frontal cortex and the basal ganglia. The effect is to promote neural oscillations that provide a substrate for communication through coherence. Both empirical and simulation studies are described to support this view of emergent behavior.


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