"The great mixing machine”: multisensory integration and brain-breath coupling in the cerebral cortex.

Pflügers Archiv - European Journal of Physiology 475:5-14 (2022)
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It is common to distinguish between “holist” and “reductionist” views of brain function, where the former envisions the brain as functioning as an indivisible unit and the latter as a collection of distinct units that serve different functions. Opposing reductionism, a number of researchers have pointed out that cortical network architecture does not respect functional boundaries, and the neuroanatomist V. Braitenberg proposed to understand the cerebral cortex as a “great mixing machine” of neuronal activity from sensory inputs, motor commands, and intrinsically generated processes. In this paper, we offer a contextualization of Braitenberg’s point, and we review evidence for the interactions of neuronal activity from multiple sensory inputs and intrinsic neuronal processes in the cerebral cortex. We focus on new insights from studies on audiovisual interactions and on the influence of respiration on brain functions, which do not seem to align well with “reductionist” views of areal functional boundaries. Instead, they indicate that functional boundaries are fuzzy and context dependent. In addition, we discuss the relevance of the influence of sensory, proprioceptive, and interoceptive signals on cortical activity for understanding brain-body interactions, highlight some of the consequences of these new insights for debates on embodied cognition, and offer some suggestions for future studies.

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Somogy Varga
Aarhus University


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