Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience
Visual perception and visual consciousness and their restoration when the eyes fail
A long-standing dream of scientists is to be able to directly project images from the outside world onto the visual brain, bypassing the eyes. This method could provide a solution for blind and visually impaired patients. It is the only possible solution for patients in whom the connection between eye and brain is lost so that a prosthesis in the eye is not an option.
I will first give an overview of the functioning of the visual cortex, which has low level areas for the analysis of simple visual features and higher areas for the analysis for more complex properties such as object category and face recognition. I will then discuss the mechanisms that determine whether a visual stimulus will reach consciousness or not. It is well established that the electrical stimulation of electrodes in the visual brain leads to artificial percepts called “phosphenes”. This method also works in patients who have been blind for decades. The goal of our own research is to bring a prosthesis for the visual brain closer. We implanted 1000 electrodes in the visual cortex to generate complex visual patterns. We demonstrated that this stimulation leads to interpretable images, in the same way that pixels form recognizable patterns on a screen. These new neurotechnological developments take important steps in the direction of prostheses that can restore a rudimantary form of vision.