Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home

Is coding a relevant metaphor for the brain?

  • Romain Brette (a1)

Abstract

“Neural coding” is a popular metaphor in neuroscience, where objective properties of the world are communicated to the brain in the form of spikes. Here I argue that this metaphor is often inappropriate and misleading. First, when neurons are said to encode experimental parameters, the neural code depends on experimental details that are not carried by the coding variable (e.g. the spike count). Thus, the representational power of neural codes is much more limited than generally implied. Second, neural codes carry information only by reference to things with known meaning. In contrast, perceptual systems must build information from relations between sensory signals and actions, forming an internal model. Neural codes are inadequate for this purpose because they are unstructured and therefore unable to represent relations. Third, coding variables are observables tied to the temporality of experiments, while spikes are timed actions that mediate coupling in a distributed dynamical system. The coding metaphor tries to fit the dynamic, circular and distributed causal structure of the brain into a linear chain of transformations between observables, but the two causal structures are incongruent. I conclude that the neural coding metaphor cannot provide a valid basis for theories of brain function, because it is incompatible with both the causal structure of the brain and the representational requirements of cognition.

    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure no-reply@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Is coding a relevant metaphor for the brain?
      Available formats
      ×

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Is coding a relevant metaphor for the brain?
      Available formats
      ×

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Is coding a relevant metaphor for the brain?
      Available formats
      ×

Copyright

Corresponding author

*Correspondence: R. Brette, Institut de la Vision, 17, rue Moreau, 75012 Paris, Franceromain.brette@inserm.frhttp://romainbrette.fr

Keywords

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed