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Published on Oct 10, 2011
Itzhak Fried, University of California, Los Angeles; Tel-Aviv University, Israel "Neurons as will and representation: Recordings from the human brain"
Dr. Fried recounted some fascinating observations he has made from single cell recordings in neurosurgical patients, pointing out that the variety of tasks accomplished by single neurons is remarkable. Single brain cells can recognize a face, particularly a familiar or famous face like Halley Berry or Oprah Winfrey, and the designated neuron will respond invariantly to one face but not another. Further, a neuron can be associative, firing when two stimuli are brought together, such as a face and a name. Then Fried tackled the question of how mental objects are selected for conscious representation, using a free recall paradigm to show that firing during both encoding and free recall is stimulus-selective at the level of single neurons in the medial temporal lobe. And, finally, turning to the question of the origin of will, Fried developed a paradigm where brain signals from electrodes implanted into the brain can detect a decision that patients have to make (i.e. to turn right or left in a driving simulation) before they are conscious of making that decision. "How does will arise?" Fried posited, "Is free will actually free?"