Can the neural firing patterns of animals be associated with specific kinds of thoughts? (ie Thoughts related to food, mating, or neighborly aggression?)
I am curious about the speculations in yesterday's Neuroskpetic blog post, "What is My Cat Thinking" on Discover Magazine's site. The author ponders if measuring his cat's neural firing patterns upon confronting a neighbor's cat, and then observing if similar patterns appear at other times when the neighbor's cat is not present, can be used as evidence for his cat's "thinking" or memory of the other cat.
The author concludes, preemptively, that such an experiment would not demonstrate anything about the content of thought: "We have no idea how neural firing relates to consciousness in humans, let alone animals."
However, I am quite sure I have seen various papers published that use fMRI and neural patterns as evidence of particular states of mind. There are also social science experiments in which participants' brains are electrically stimulated, resulting in particular actions (grabbing of a pencil, for example), and then asked to explain the motivations for this action. These experiments would suggest that it is already assumed that specific brain patterns correlate to specific thoughts and actions.
I am wondering to what extent biologists have already studied neural firing in relation to consciousness and the content of thoughts. More specifically, can we infer the recall of specific memories from a neural firing pattern?