Sensory Coding & the Natural Environment
The primary goal of this conference is to bring together neuroscientists, psychologists, mathematicians, and engineers who are seeking to characterize the structure of natural sensory signals (including images, sound, and other senses) and study how this information is coded and represented in the brain. The larger theme of the conference is understanding how biological systems encode and process complex, natural stimuli in natural conditions.
Why organize a conference around natural scenes or more generally natural signals? Traditionally, neuroscientists and psychologists have used relatively simple, "controlled" stimuli - such as sine-wave gratings, pure tones, spots, clicks, taps or vibration to the skin, etc. - to probe the response properties of sensory neurons and characterize perceptual abilities. This approach has been fairly successful at elucidating the forms of information processing occurring at early stages of sensory processing. But as one enters the cerebral cortex, where processing is highly non-linear and subject to recurrent computation in the form of feedback from other cortical neurons, this approach appears to be of limited usefulness. Neurons in the cortex are presumably encoding certain spatio-temporal patterns from the input stream, but you can't tell what these are by simply probing one element at a time in some reduced space. Thus, one is motivated to ask, what sorts of input patterns was this system designed to process? The answer: natural scenes. An interdisciplinary field has emerged in recent years that has focused on a set of inter-related questions: What are the forms of structure that tend to occur in the environment; how do we characterize these mathematically/statistically? How are these forms of structure encoded and represented by neurons in the brain? This requires not only drawing upon the methods of neurophysiology, neuroethology, and psychophysics, but also developing mathematical theories and building computational models. This field is highly interdisciplinary in nature and participants in this conference often combine several of these methodologies and cover a wide variety of biological systems.
What is a GRC? Gordon Research Conferences (GRC) are 5-day meetings that bring scientists together from around the world to present and discuss unpublished research with other leaders in their field.