Welcome to the

Conte Center

The Center is home to an integrative, collaborative program of basic neuroscience research involving researchers from the Feinstein Institute, Columbia University, the Nathan Kline Institute, Washington University, Princeton University, UC-Berkeley, Boston University, and Stanford University. Using cutting-edge technology, the Center aims to investigate the intricate details of how our brains work. Our researchers focus on a critical issue of broad scientific and translational importance – the brain’s rhythmic dynamics and their mechanistic roles as instruments that the brain uses to optimize its goal-directed sampling of information, or “Active Sensing.”

What is active sensing?

Active sensing refers to the way in which we actively scan the environment around us with our senses. For example, rather than staring blankly and waiting for something to ‘fall’ into our gaze, we use eye movements to look around us. Similarly, if we are holding an object, we usually turn it in our hands and explore the feel of it. This is overt active sensing – we are actively using our sense to find out about our surroundings. Active sensing can also be covert. Even when our eyes are still we still scan our surroundings by shifting attention. We do the same with our hearing and scan the sounds around us by shifting attention through different features of the auditory scene.

Importantly, active sensing is ‘predictive’ – it is guided by our expectations based on our species’ evolution and heightened by our personal experience. Because its central tenet is that sensing and perceiving can be fully understood only in the context of subjects’ ongoing, information-seeking activities, Active Sensing and the related Predictive Coding Theories represent an ongoing paradigm shift in systems neuroscience.

Our research

Our team’s expertise spans neural systems studies in humans, cellular and neuron ensemble studies in nonhuman primates and computational modeling addressing brain operations at each level. In investigating the neurobiology and dynamics of Active Sensing, our Center pursues three interrelated objectives: first, direct sampling of brain activity using ElectroCorticoGraphic (ECoG) recordings in surgical epilepsy patients to gain an understanding of neuronal dynamics at the global level; second, intracranial multielectrode recordings in monkeys, to track specific neuronal dynamics down to the cellular and cell ensemble levels; finally, development of computational modeling procedures that can fully explicate, represent and connect findings across these levels of analysis.

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