Professor Semir Zeki is one of the foremost neurobiologists of his generation. He obtained his Ph.D. in anatomy from University College in London (UCL), followed by post-doctoral research in the United States. Over the next three decades, he pursued a distinguished career in neurobiology, and is currently Professor of Neurobiology at UCL. Zeki is a Fellow of the prestigious Royal Society (London), foreign member of the American Philosophical Society, Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences (London), and member of the European Academy of Sciences and Arts and the Academia Ejuropae. He is also a member of the Scientific Board of Governors at the Scripps Research Institute and former Director of the Welcome Laboratory of Neurobiology at UCL between 1994 and 2001.
Professor Zeki’s lifetime contributions are centered on the organization of the visual cortex in humans and other primates. One of his earlier keynote findings was the discovery that specific areas of the visual cortex engage in segregated responses to either color vision or visual motion stimulation, and that color and visual motion are perceived at different times. He described how colors are represented in the visual cortex and how that region uses color-coded cells to process color images. From the wealth of information that he gathered over several years on vision and motion pathways, Zeki formulated an overall theory of visual consciousness in which he proposed that the visual brain contains several, parallel and functionally specialized processing areas. Subsequently, he developed a novel psychophysical technique which showed that the cortical regions processing a visual stimulus are also involved in its perception. This cutting-edge discovery provided the basis for his revolutionary concept that consciousness is not a unity, but an assembly of numerous microconsciousnesses distributed both in time and space. He is studying how these visual microconsciousnesses are integrated to produce a unified perception of the visual scene.
In addition to the King Faisal International Prize for Science, Professor Zeki’s seminal contributions to the biology of vision were recognized by numerous other prizes, invited lectureships, membership of learned societies and editorial boards. He authored or co-authored some 180 papers and four books. His main interest outside his work is in learning more about art and creativity as manifestations of brain activity and this has led him to engage with artists and write about their work (e.g., his books Inner Vision which has been translated into 6 languages) and La Quête de l’essentiel – jointly with the late French painter Balthus – as well as articles about Dante, Michelangelo and Wagner). This has also led him to establish the Institute of Neuroesthetics in Berkeley, CA.
Professor Semir Zeki, has been awarded the prize, for his seminal work on the organization of the visual brain. He was the first to show that the visual brain consists of different areas that are functionally specialized to process and perceive different attributes of the visual scene. His subsequent studies have also shown that the visual brain perceives different attributes such as motion and color at different times, leading to the now widely accepted theory of temporal asynchrony in vision; which maintains that the visual consciousness consists of many different micro-consciousnesses that are distributed in space and time. Professor Zeki’s contributions have had a tremendous impact on the biology of vision.