Victor LammeI study visual consciousness. I want to understand how it can be that when we process visual information this is – sometimes – accompanied by a sensation: we see. What brain mechanisms make that happen?
It may seem that I am in the business of finding the neural correlate of consciousness. In part I am, in part I am not. I do try to manipulate consciousness, using paradigms like masking, inattentional blindness, change blindness, and binocular rivalry, or by applying TMS, drugs or anesthesia. And at the same time, I look at the neural activity that goes along with these manipulations. But I find that the biggest problem in relating consciousness to neural mechanisms is in knowing what people are conscious of. By looking at consciousness via a behavioral report we tend to conflate consciousness with other cognitive functions such as attention, working memory or language. So I think that a big challenge will be to really understand what consciousness – the seeing itself – actually is. I my research I therefore try to reshape our current ideas about consciousness using neuroscience. Can we give a useful neural definition of consciousness (and separate it from attention, working memory etc), and move towards a better scientific understanding of the phenomenon?
Figure: Orthogonal neural definitions of consciousness and attention. Attention is equivalent to depth of processing (horizontal axis), the unconscious-conscious dichotomy is identical to the difference between feedforward and recurrent processing (vertical axis).
I studied medicine, but never touched a patient. I started working on the brain right away. First, I did a PhD with Henk Spekreijse at the University of Amsterdam, where I studied figure-ground segregation mechanisms in the visual cortex of the monkey. After that, I did a postdoc at M.I.T. with Peter Schiller at the department of Brain and Cognitive Science. I returned to the Netherlands with a Royal Academy fellowhip. Then I became a group leader at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience. During all those years, my research was mainly on awake monkeys, studying the neural mechanisms of perceptual organization and visual awareness. As of 2002, I am full professor of cognitive neuroscience at the department of psychology of the University of Amsterdam. My research has since then focused entirely on consciousness, with a shift towards studying the phenomenon in human subjects, using EEG, fMRI, TMS and a variety of manipulations.
(see lab publication list for all publications)