Understanding Perception Through Neural “Codes”
A major challenge for cognitive scientists is to deduce and explain the neural mechanisms of the rapid transposition between stimulus energy and recalled memory—between the specific (sensation) and the generic (perception)—in both material and mental aspects. Researchers are attempting three explanations in terms of neural codes. The microscopic code: cellular neurobiologists correlate stimulus properties with the rates and frequencies of trains of action potentials induced by stimuli and carried by topologically organized axons. The mesoscopic code: cognitive scientists formulate symbolic codes in trains of action potentials from feature-detector neurons of phonemes, lines, odorants, vibrations, faces, etc., that object-detector neurons bind into representations of stimuli. The macroscopic code: neurodynamicists extract neural correlates of stimuli and associated behaviors in spatial patterns of oscillatory fields of dendritic activity, which self-organize and evolve on trajectories through high-dimensional brain state space. This multivariate code is expressed in landscapes of chaotic attractors. Unlike other scientific codes, such as DNA and the periodic table, these neural codes have no alphabet or syntax. They are epistemological metaphors that experimentalists need to measure neural activity and engineers need to model brain functions. My aim is to describe the main properties of the macroscopic code and the grand challenge it poses: how do very large patterns of textured synchronized oscillations form in cortex so quickly?