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J Neurosci. 2013 Nov 6;33(45):17597-602. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3343-13.2013.

Perceptual spaces: mathematical structures to neural mechanisms.

Author information

Graduate Center for Vision Research, State University of New York College of Optometry, New York, New York 10036, Brain and Mind Research Institute, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, New York 10021, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, Department of Otorhinolaryngology, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104, Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois 60637, and Department of Psychology, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853.


A central goal of neuroscience is to understand how populations of neurons build and manipulate representations of percepts that provide useful information about the environment. This symposium explores the fundamental properties of these representations and the perceptual spaces in which they are organized. Spanning the domains of color, visual texture, environmental sound, music, tactile quality, and odor, we show how the geometric structures of perceptual spaces can be determined experimentally and how these structures provide insights into the principles of neural coding and the neural mechanisms that generate the codes, and into the neural processing of complex sensory stimuli. The diversity of the neural architecture in these different sensory systems provides an opportunity to compare their different solutions to common problems: the need for dimensionality reduction, strategies for topographic or nontopographic mapping, the utility of the higher-order statistical structure inherent in natural sensory stimuli, and the constraints of neural hardware.

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