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Christof Koch

Christof Koch
Christof Koch, 2008
Born (1956-11-13) November 13, 1956
Kansas City, Missouri
Nationality American
Fields Biophysics
Alma mater University of Tübingen
Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics
Doctoral advisor Valentin Braitenberg
Tomaso Poggio
Doctoral students Laurent Itti, Virgil Griffith

Christof Koch (;[1] born November 13, 1956) is an American neuroscientist best known for his work on the neural bases of consciousness. He is the President and Chief Scientific Officer of the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle. From 1986 until 2013, he was a professor at the California Institute of Technology.[2]


  • Biography 1
  • Publications 2
  • References 3
  • External links 4


Koch is the son of German parents; his father was a diplomat, as is his older brother Michael. He was raised as a Roman Catholic and attended a Jesuit high school in Morocco. He received a PhD in nonlinear information processing from the Max Planck Institute in Tübingen, Germany in 1982. He worked for four years at the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT before joining, in 1986, the newly started Computation and Neural Systems PhD program at the California Institute of Technology.

In 1986, Koch and Shimon Ullman proposed the idea of a visual saliency map in the primate visual system.[3][4] Subsequently, his then PhD-student, Laurent Itti, and Koch developed a popular suite of visual saliency algorithms.[5][6]

For over two decades, Koch and his students have carried out detailed biophysical simulations of the electrical properties of neuronal tissue, from simulating the details of the action potential propagation along axons and dendrites to the synthesis of the local field potential and the EEG from the electrical activity of large populations of excitable neurons.

Since the early 1990s, Koch has argued that identifying the mechanistic basis of consciousness as a scientifically tractable problem, and has been influential in arguing that consciousness can be approached using the modern tools of neurobiology. He and his student Nao Tsuchiya invented continuous flash suppression,[7] an efficient psychophysical marking technique for rendering images invisible for many seconds. They have used this technique to argue that selective attention and consciousness are distinct phenomena, with distinct biological functions and mechanisms.

Koch's primary collaborator in the endeavor of locating the neural correlates of consciousness was the molecular biologist turned neuroscientist, Francis Crick, starting with their first paper in 1990 [8] and their last one, that Crick edited on the day of his death, July 24. 2004 on the relationship between the claustrum, a mysterious anatomical structure situated underneath the insular cortex, and consciousness.[9]

Over the last decade, Koch has worked closely with the psychiatrist and neuroscientist Giulio Tononi. Koch advocates for a modern variant of panpsychism, the ancient philosophical belief that some form of consciousness can be found in all things. Tononi's Integrated Information Theory (IIT) of consciousness differs from classical panpsychism in that it only ascribes consciousness to things with some degree of information integration, which does not include "A bunch of disconnected neurons in a dish, a heap of sand, a galaxy of stars or a black hole," [10] and by providing an analytical and empirically accessible framework for understanding experience and its mechanistic origins. He and Tononi claim that IIT is able to solve the problem in conceiving how one mind can be composed of an aggregate of "smaller" minds, known as the combination problem.[11][12] Koch writes a popular column, Consciousness Redux, for Scientific American Mind on scientific and popular topics pertaining to consciousness.

Koch co-founded the Methods in Computational Neuroscience summer course [13] at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole in 1988, the Neuromorphic Engineering summer school[14] in Telluride, Colorado in 1994 and the Dynamic Brain summer course[15] at the Friday Harbor Laboratories on San Juan Island in 2014. All three summer schools continue to be taught.

In early 2011,[16] Koch became the Chief Scientific Officer of the Allen Institute for Brain Science, leading their ten-year project concerning high-throughput large-scale cortical coding. The mission is to understand the computations that lead from photons to behavior by observing and modeling the physical transformations of signals in the visual brain of behaving mice.[17] The project seeks to catalogue all the building blocks (ca. 100 distinct cell types) of the then visual cortical regions and associated structures (thalamus, colliculus) and their dynamics. The scientists seek to know what the animal sees, how it thinks, and how it decides. They seek to map out the murine mind in a quantitative manner. The Allen Institute for Brain Science currently employs about 270 scientists, engineers, technologists and supporting personnel. [18] The first four years of this ten-year endeavor to build brain observatories were funded by a donation of $300 million[19] by Microsoft founder and philanthropist Paul G. Allen.


  • Methods in Neuronal Modeling: From Ions to Networks, The MIT Press, (1998), ISBN 0-262-11231-0
  • Biophysics of Computation: Information Processing in Single Neurons, Oxford Press, (1999), ISBN 0-19-518199-9
  • The Quest for Consciousness: a Neurobiological Approach, Roberts and Co., (2004), ISBN 0-9747077-0-8
  • Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist, The MIT Press, (2012), ISBN 978-0-262-01749-7


  1. ^ "The Thinking Ape: The Enigma of Human Consciousness" on YouTube
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  17. ^ Koch C (2013) Project MindScope Allen Institute for Brain Science.
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External links

  • Online lecture videos from an undergraduate course taught by Koch on the neurobiological basis of consciousness.
  • Moth talk about Koch's relationship to God, death and Francis Crick.
  • Interview with historian Harry Kreissler at UC Berkeley, 2006
  • Interview on the Brain Science Podcast, 2011
  • Interview on the Point of Inquiry Podcast, 2012
  • 2013 TedX talk on Panpsychism on YouTube
  • Interview with Christof Koch on the neuroscience of reading and the "movie" in your "mind"
  • A short presentation on Consciousness in 2014 in Zürich
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