How Neurons Use Crowdsourcing to Make Decisions
How do we make decisions? Or rather, how do our neurons make decisions for us? Do individual neurons have a strong say or is the voice in the neural collective? One way to think about this question is to ask how many of my neurons you would have to observe to read my mind. If you can predict I am about to say the word “grandma” by watching one of my neurons then we could say our decisions can be attributed to single, perhaps “very vocal,” neurons. In neuroscience such neurons are called “grandmother” neurons after it was proposed in the 1960’s that there may be single neurons that uniquely respond to complex and important percepts like a grandmother’s face. On the other hand, if you can only read my mind by polling many of my neurons then it would appear the decision a collective one, distributed across hundreds, thousands or even millions of neurons. A big debate in neuroscience is whether single-neuron encoding or distributed encoding is most relevant for understanding how the brain functions.
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