Location: Simons IMAX Theatre

Aquarium Lecture Series

Distance Vision and the Early Origins of Awareness

Thursday, May 31

David Edelman, Ph.D., Visiting Scholar, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Dartmouth College

The ability to resolve distant objects within a complex visual scene probably emerged more than 500 million years ago during the Cambrian explosion, a period characterized by the appearance of diverse new sensory innovations, including every major type of eye found in living vertebrates and invertebrates today. David Edelman, Ph.D., argues that distance vision and its underlying neural circuitry provided the first critical substrates for sensory consciousness. Seeing objects from afar engendered a new sort of neural faculty that effectively linked space and time. Animals equipped with this faculty were able to not only monitor their environment for salience (e.g., identify and track predators or prey), but also make predictions about future outcomes on which their survival likely hinged. Making such predictions must necessarily have relied on an ongoing linkage between perception and memory: a connection that, some suggest, is a critical requisite for conscious experience. He makes the case that, as a capable predator with acute vision, the octopus provides a striking test case for subjective experience in an animal quite distant from the vertebrate line. Indeed, probing the octopus visual system could conceivably help identify neuroanatomical and neurophysiological properties of conscious states that are universal among animals with sophisticated sensory faculties and complex nervous systems, regardless of profound morphological differences and divergent evolutionary histories.