About me

Danko Nikolić

The main motive for my studies is the explanatory gap between the brain and the mind. My interest is in how the physical world of neuronal activity produces the mental world of perception and cognition. I am associated with Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies.

My work so far led to a number of findings that make small steps towards the goal of bridging the explanatory gap. This research concerns the dynamics of cortical neurons and the relationship between cortical activity and visual perception. For example, we now know that there is not one, but multiple ways a subjective increase in perceived brightness can be produced by cortical neurons. Also, we now know that a synchronized population of cortical neurons organizes its dynamics into small-world networks, and that the action potentials of the same population of neurons form short-lasting firing sequences. The order within these firing sequences changes dynamically in a stimulus-dependent manner. The results are published in leading scientific journals.

In addition, with my collaborators, I made a number of other discoveries concerning visual cognition and synesthesia/ideasthesia. We found that visual long-term memory is created within visual working memory. Also, we found evidence that synesthesia is primarily a semantic phenemenon. This lead me to introduce the concept of ideasthesia.

The ultimate goal of my studies is twofold. First, I would like to achieve conceptual understanding of how the dynamics of physical processes creates the mental ones. This effort resulted in the theory of practopoiesis. I believe that this work will help us eventually address the hard problem of consciousness and the mind-body problem in general. Second, I would like to use this theoretical knowledge to create artificial systems that are biologically-like intelligent and adaptive. This would have implications for our information-processing technologies.

If you do not see why would it be interesting to studying the brain, maybe you can find motivation in the following text: Why brain?

Why brain?

The brain is like a household appliance. You can wonder how it works. You can disassemble it to see what it consists of, and you can take the challenge of assembling it back. In brain research we disassemble, by doing experiments, and assemble back, through theories.

When reassembling an appliance, an amateur is often left with an extra screw or two, or a spring of some sort, or even with parts of unidentifiable shapes. These leftovers make one wonder whether an engineering error has been made or whether the manufacturing process went wrong when, mistakenly, unneeded components were packed into the device, which–as one has just proven–can work without them. In brain science, everyone is an assembling amateur... Read More

Selected Publications

Practopoiesis: Or how life fosters a mind.

Nikolić, D. (2014) 
arXiv:1402.5332 [q-bio.NC].

Oscillations without a metronome

Nikolić D., P. Fries, and W. Singer (2013)
Gamma oscillations: precise temporal coordination without a metronome.
Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 17: 54-55. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2012.12.003

Swimming-style synesthesia

Nikolić, D., U.M. Jürgens, N. Rothen, B. Meier, A. Morczko (2011)

Brightness induction: Rate enhancement and neuronal synchronization as complementary codes

Biederlack, J., M. Castelo-Branco, S. Neuenschwander, D.W. Wheeler, W. Singer and D. Nikolić (2006)
 52, 1073-1083

The gamma cycle

Fries, P., D. Nikolić and W. Singer (2007)
TRENDS in Neurosciences
, 30(7):309-316




Distributed fading memory for stimulus properties in the primary visual cortex.

Nikolić, D.*, S. Häusler*, W. Singer and W. Maass (2009)
PLoS Biology 2009, 7: e1000260. 
*contributed equally

Synchrony makes neurons fire in sequence – and stimulus properties determine who is ahead.

Havenith, M.N., S. Yu, J. Biederlack, N-H. Chen, W. Singer, D. Nikolić (2011)
Journal of Neuroscience, 31(23): 8570-8584.

A Small World of Neuronal Synchrony

Yu, S., D. Huang, W. Singer and D. Nikolić (2008)
Cerebral Cortex,