Towards a New Cognitive Neuroscience: Modeling Natural Brain Dynamics
Daniel P. Ferris
Decades of brain imaging experiments have revealed important insights into the architecture of the human brain and the detailed anatomic basis for the neural dynamics supporting human cognition. However, technical restrictions of traditional brain imaging approaches including functional magnetic resonance tomography (fMRI), positron emission tomography (PET), and magnetoencephalography (MEG) severely limit participants' movements during experiments. As a consequence, our knowledge of the neural basis of human cognition is rooted in a dissociation of human cognition from what is arguably its foremost, and certainly its evolutionarily most determinant function, organizing our behavior so as to optimize its consequences in our complex, multi-scale, and ever-changing environment. The concept of natural cognition, therefore, should not be separated from our fundamental experience and role as embodied agents acting in a complex, partly unpredictable world. To gain new insights into the brain dynamics supporting natural cognition, we must overcome restrictions of traditional brain imaging technology. First, the sensors used must be lightweight and mobile to allow monitoring of brain activity during free participant movements. New hardware technology for electroencephalography (EEG) and near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) allows recording electrical and hemodynamic brain activity while participants are freely moving. New data-driven analysis approaches must allow separation of signals arriving at the sensors from the brain and from non-brain sources (neck muscles, eyes, heart, the electrical environment, etc.). Independent component analysis (ICA) and related blind source separation methods allow separation of brain activity from non-brain activity from data recorded during experimental paradigms that stimulate natural cognition. Imaging the precisely timed, distributed brain dynamics that support all forms of our motivated actions and interactions in both laboratory and real-world settings requires new modes of data capture and of data processing. Synchronously recording participants’ motor behavior, brain activity, and other physiology, as well as their physical environment and external events may be termed mobile brain/body imaging ('MoBI'). Joint multi-stream analysis of recorded MoBI data is a major conceptual, mathematical, and data processing challenge. This Research Topic is one result of the first international MoBI meeting in Delmenhorst Germany in September 2013. During an intense workshop researchers from all over the world presented their projects and discussed new technological developments and challenges of this new imaging approach. Several of the presentations are compiled in this Research Topic that we hope may inspire new research using the MoBI paradigm to investigate natural cognition by recording and analyzing the brain dynamics and behavior of participants performing a wide range of naturally motivated actions and interactions.