The theory of multistage integration in the visual brain

A. Bartels, S. Zeki

Abstract

The theory of multistage integration is based on evidence that the visual brain consists of several parallel multistage processing systems, each specialized for a given attribute such as colour or motion. Each stage of a given system processes information at a distinct level of complexity. Our theory supposes that activity at any stage of a given multistage processing system is perceptually explicit: that is to say, it requires no further processing to generate a conscious experience. This activity can be integrated, or bound, with the perceptually explicit activity at any given stage of another or the same multistage processing system. Such binding is therefore not a process that generates a conscious experience, but rather one that brings different conscious experiences together. Many perceptual advantages result from such a flexible and dynamic integrative system. Conversely, there would be disadvantages to limiting perception and binding to hypothetical ‘terminal’ stages of such processing systems or to hypothetical ‘integrator’ areas. Although we formulate our hypothesis in terms of the visual brain, we believe it might form a general principle of brain functioning.