Richard Axel

My commitment: Discovering how the brain knows what the nose is smelling

As a neuroscientist, I am interested in how the external world is represented in the brain, a problem that lies at the very core of philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience. Our perceptions are not direct recordings of the world around us; rather they are constructed internally according to innate rules. Colors, tones, tastes, smells are active constructs created by our brains out of sensory experience.

Why would a molecular neuroscientist interested in perception choose to focus on the elusive sense of smell? Smell is the primal sense, the sense that affords most organisms the ability to detect food, predators, and mates. For humans, smell is the evocative sense, the sense that brings forth memory and associations with a richness not elicited by other sensory stimuli. We are capable of recognizing hundreds of thousands of different odors, and I want to understand the complex interaction between genes and experience that make this recognition possible.


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