Study on Human Perception Funded By Emil Venere The Zanvyl Krieger Mind/Brain Institute has received a $1.3 million grant to establish three new laboratories dedicated to studying how the human brain perceives. The three-year grant, from the Lucille P. Markey Charitable Trust, will be used primarily to hire three scientists to head the laboratories, which will enhance ongoing research dealing with the neural mechanisms involved in perception, said Guy M. McKhann, director of the institute. The research focuses on a "systems approach" to studying human perception. To understand how the visual system works, for example, scientists must learn how numerous brain components work together to produce a complete visual image. Mind/Brain scientists are currently investigating how the human brain encodes and records sensory information, easily accomplishing complex "pattern recognition" tasks that even the most advanced computers can't come close to matching, said Kenneth Johnson, scientific director of the institute. Before the brain stores visual information about an object, the image from the retina is changed into an abstract representation of itself so that the brain can recognize a wide range of different versions of the object. The human brain immediately recognizes a letter A, for example, even if it's a different size or shape than any letter A seen before. The complexity of this task is obvious to computer scientists, who have tried in vain to create an automated mail system that might simply read the addresses on envelopes. Even the most powerful computers are unable to cope with the vast array of shapes and sizes of letters and numbers produced by the endless variety of handwriting styles. "So the first big question is, how does the brain recode this information as it flows into the central nervous system?" said Dr. Johnson, a professor of neurophysiology and biomedical engineering. "Somehow the information is recoded to a completely different form. And that's the big question that we are after in this laboratory." Similar transformations are involved with the senses of hearing and touch. The grant was one of 14 announced Jan. 10 by the Markey trust, based in Miami. They will be the last research grants issued by the trust, which has awarded $474 million to research institutions since it was established in 1983. The foundation has issued $12.8 million in grants to Hopkins, including the most recent grant. The Mind/Brain Institute is a research organization for interdisciplinary research in the neurosciences, cognitive psychology and computational neurobiology. It combines the resources of experts at the Homewood campus and the Medical Institutions.
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