Active Sensing and Motor-Sensory Loops
Sensation is usually not passive. Brains acquire information about their environment actively by selecting sensory targets and probing their features. Target selection and feature probing is controlled by the motor components of sensory systems that either move the sensory organ [e.g., eye, hand, tongue or whisker (in rodents)], move the sensed material across it (e.g., sniffing) or emit sensible energy that interacts with the object (e.g., echolocation in bats or electrolocation in electric fish). Thus, during active sensing, motor and sensory components of the same sense modality are intimately related to each other. How these intimate relations are implemented across the multiple neuronal loops connecting motor and sensory stations, how motor-sensory coordination optimizes sensation, and how out of all these perception emerges are exciting open questions.
Our department offers a rich and diverse range of research directions on active sensing and motor-sensory loops in a variety of animal systems: bat echolocation, human smelling, vision and touch, and rodent whisker-touch. Based on accumulated experience in these systems, advanced research approaches are employed across several research groups in our department, which enable accurate tracking of the interactions between sensory organs and their environment, detailed recordings and manipulations of the relevant neuronal components at various levels, and quantification of animal behavior. Combinations of these methods with conceptual theories and mechanistic models allow addressing the challenging, and fascinating questions related to active sensing, aiming at understanding how perception emerges from interactions between brains and environments.