In search of common foundations for cortical computation
It is worthwhile to search for forms of coding, processing, and learning common to various cortical regions and cognitive functions. Local cortical processors may coordinate their activity by maximizing the transmission of information coherently related to the context in which it occurs, thus forming synchronized population codes. This coordination involves contextual field (CF) connections that link processors within and between cortical regions. The effects of CF connections are distinguished from those mediating receptive field (RF) input; it is shown how CFs can guide both learning and processing without becoming confused with the transmission of RF information. Simulations explore the capabilities of networks built from local processors with both RF and CF connections. Physiological evidence for synchronization, CFs, and plasticity of the RF and CF connections is described. Coordination via CFs is related to perceptual grouping, the effects of context on contrast sensitivity, amblyopia, implicit influences of color in achromotopsia, object and word perception, and the discovery of distal environmental variables and their interactions through self-organization. Cortical computation could thus involve the flexible evaluation of relations between input signals by locally specialized but adaptive processors whose activity is dynamically associated and coordinated within and between regions through specialized contextual connections.
Key Words: cell assemblies; cerebral cortex; context; coordination; dynamic binding; epistemology; functional specialization; learning; neural coding; neural computation; neuropsychology; object recognition; perception; reading; self-organization; synaptic plasticity; synchronization.