Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour
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Thesis defense Chris Lewis (Donders Series 179)

March 17, 2015

Promotor: Prof.dr. P. Fries

The structure and function of intrinsic brain activity

Day to day experience has likely given you the impression that your brain is neither static nor quiet. Far from the sterile, inert passivity of a digital computer, your brain hums with perpetual energy, an internal life of its own. Across a wide range of behavioral states, from intense activity, to quiet rest and sleep, our brains are equally at work, churning out the stream of thoughts, feelings and bodily commands which we know as our selves.

This continual, intrinsically generated brain activity has generally been treated as noise, and reduced through analytical approaches based on signal averaging. However, an increasing body of evidence suggests that the brain’s intrinsic activity is not noise, but rather, that it may play a critical role in brain function. I will present a series of studies that relate intrinsic dynamics to learning and behavior, as well as investigate the role neuronal synchronization may play in networks of intrinsically active brain areas. The findings from these studies suggest that intrinsic activity has robust and highly specific structure, reflects experience, influences behavior, and shapes perception. I also promote a view for studying brain function that takes into account variables beyond our experimental control and try to suggest ways in which we might incorporate them into our working models of brain function.