Cognitive functions like perception, memory, language, or consciousness are based on highly parallel and distributed information processing by the brain. One of the major unresolved questions is how information can be integrated and how coherent representational states can be established in the distributed neuronal systems subserving these functions. It has been suggested that this so-called "binding problem" may be solved in the temporal domain. The hypothesis is that synchronization of neuronal discharges can serve for the integration of distributed neurons into cell assemblies and that this process may underlie the selection of perceptually and behaviorally relevant information. As we intend to show here, this temporal binding hypothesis has implications for the search of the neural correlate of consciousness. We review experimental results, mainly obtained in the visual system, which support the notion of temporal binding. In particular, we discuss recent experiments on the neural mechanisms of binocular rivalry which suggest that appropriate synchronization among cortical neurons may be one of the necessary conditions for the buildup of perceptual states and awareness of sensory stimuli.
Copyright 1999 Academic Press.