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"The binding problem is, basically, the problem of how the unity of conscious perception is brought about by the distributed activities of the central nervous system" (Revonsuo and Newman (1999)).
In its most general form it arises whenever information from distinct populations of neurons must be combined. Somehow the activity of specialised sets of neurons dealing with different aspects of perception are combined to form a unified perceptual experience. The binding problem also occurs in each modality of perception and different versions of the problem have been described in language production, visual perception, auditory perception, and other mental processes.
In the case of visual perception, the brains of humans and other animals process different aspects of perception by separating information about those aspects and processing them in distinct regions of the brain. For example, different areas in the visual cortex specialise in processing the different aspects of colour, motion, and shape. This type of modular coding yields ambiguity in many instances. For example, when humans view a scene containing a red circle and a green square, some neurons signal the presence of red, others signal the presence of green, still others the circle shape and square shape. Here, the binding problem is the issue of how the brain represents the pairing of color and shape. Specifically, are the circles red or green?
The binding problem is also an issue in memory. How do we remember the associations among different elements of an event? How does the brain create and maintain those associations? Both the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex seem to be important for memory binding.
- Revonsuo, A and Newman, J. (1999). Binding and Consciousness. Consciousness and Cognition 8, 123-127.
- Treisman, A., & Gelade, G. (1980). A feature-integration theory of attention PDF
- Zimmer, H., Mecklinger, A., Lindenberger, U. (2006). Binding in Human Memory. book link
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