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Network. 2006 Dec;17(4):301-34.

Theoretical understanding of the early visual processes by data compression and data selection.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University College London. UK.


Early vision is best understood in terms of two key information bottlenecks along the visual pathway -- the optic nerve and, more severely, attention. Two effective strategies for sampling and representing visual inputs in the light of the bottlenecks are (1) data compression with minimum information loss and (2) data deletion. This paper reviews two lines of theoretical work which understand processes in retina and primary visual cortex (V1) in this framework. The first is an efficient coding principle which argues that early visual processes compress input into a more efficient form to transmit as much information as possible through channels of limited capacity. It can explain the properties of visual sampling and the nature of the receptive fields of retina and V1. It has also been argued to reveal the independent causes of the inputs. The second theoretical tack is the hypothesis that neural activities in V1 represent the bottom up saliencies of visual inputs, such that information can be selected for, or discarded from, detailed or attentive processing. This theory links V1 physiology with pre-attentive visual selection behavior. By making experimentally testable predictions, the potentials and limitations of both sets of theories can be explored.

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