About me

Danko Nikolić

Getting the kick out of practopoiesis.

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 spent many years at the Max-Planck Institute for Brain Research, and I am currently associated with Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies, and the University of Zagreb.

I approach the problem of explanatory gap from both sides, bottom-up and top-down. The bottom-up approach investigates brain physiology. The top-down approach investigates the behavior and experiences. Each of the two approaches led me to develop a theory: The work on behavior and experiences led me to discover the phenomenon of ideasthesia (meaning "sensing concepts"). The work on physiology resulted in the theory of practopoiesis (meaning "creation of actions").

The empirical work in the background of those theories involved simultaneous recordings of activity of 100+ neurons in the visual cortex (extracellular recordings), behavioral and imaging studies in visual cognition (attention, working memory, long-term memory), and empirical investigations of phenomenal experiences (synesthesia).

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. I believe that the work on practopoiesis presents an important step in this direction and that it 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 (see AI-Kindergarten).

I think that this paper could turn out to be my most important contribution to neuroscience so far. Finers crossed that the proposed hypothesis turns out correct.

A reason why one would be interested in studying the brain in the first place is described here: 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

Reading the minds

Lazar, A., Lewis, C., Fries, P., Singer, W., & Nikolic, D. (2021)
Visual exposure enhances stimulus encoding and persistence in primary cortex. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 118(43), e2105276118.

The mechanisms of anapoiesis

Nikolić, D. (2022)
Where is the mind within the brain? Transient selection of subnetworks by metabotropic receptors and G protein-gated ion channels. arXiv preprint arXiv:2207.11249.

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.