Thought I would start a thread to talk about some of the information from the first podcast (part 1 and part 2). There is one concept that I am still trying to wrap my head around, so hoping some further discussion will help to solidify things in my mind. It cuts to the core of “attention”, so it may not be something which has been sufficiently explored yet.
I’ll start with a thought experiment, which I think exemplifies the area where I am having trouble. (It is also something you can do IRL with the help of a friend, if you are having trouble visualizing the experience I am trying to convey)
Imagine yourself in a large room sitting in a typical swivel chair with coasters, and you are holding your favorite coffee cup. At this point you are not focused on the cup, and are aware of the room around you. Your friend slowly spins your chair, and pushes it around the room randomly. You are perfectly aware of where you are in the room and which direction you are facing at all times.
Now imagine while your friend continues spinning the chair and pushing it around, you start to explore the coffee cup with your index finger. You move your finger around the cup, changing directions. You are perfectly aware of where your finger is on the cup and which direction it is facing at all times. (Also assume that you do not have AADD and are able to explore the cup without being distracted by your friend and constantly shifting your attention)
Then you look up. Initially, you will have had no idea where you are in the room or which direction you were facing. A quick glance or two will re-establish your location and orientation in the room. At the same time, you will have lost the location and orientation you had in the context of the finger and cup.
Where my confusion comes into play, is that it seems you can be globally (across all sensors) attending to only one thing at a time (yes it is possible to “multitask” by shifting focus quickly back and forth between multiple things, but you are still only attending to one thing at a time). The position/orientations that you experience at any given time are globally in the space of that one thing. However from the discussions on the podcast, it seems as though positions and orientations are theorized to be distributed all around the whole neocortex. If that were the case, then it would seem that my finger exploring the cup should have no bearing on other sensors on my body which are experiencing the movement of the chair. Why do I lose my context in the room when I am exploring the cup with one sensor, and then lose my context on the cup when I attend to the room with other completely different sensors?
Another way to think about this problem, is if you explore a new novel object with your right index finger, you can transfer the object to your left hand and immediately recognize it and make position/orientation inferences about it with a completely different finger that has never encountered it before.
The above thought experiments would seem to indicate that there is a global mechanism for things like position and direction, that can refer to only one thing at a time, globally across all sensors. That being the case, then couldn’t a much smaller network of cells (perhaps even the same ones in the entorhinal cortex that are used for navigating a room) be also used for exploring any object with any sensor? I wonder if there have been any experiments to watch EC activity when exploring an object with a finger, to see if there is any similarity to exploring a room WRT location and head direction cells.