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The Neural Code: Universal Grammar or Area-Specific Mechanisms? (Russo, Toutounji)


The brain responds to sensory stimuli with complex, yet structured, patterns of action potentials, which in turn gives rise to perception, action, remembrance and other facets of the organism's mental life. Finding order in the complexity of neural activity, and the quest for the neural code, occupied much of both experimental and theoretical neuroscience in the last decades. Several general theories of how the brain might encode and transfer information have been suggested, partly backed by experimental evidence. Attractor dynamics, binding by synchrony, brain oscillations acting at multiple temporal scales and Bayesian coding are some of the more prominent proposals into this direction. The debate whether these strategies are different facets of a fundamental neural grammar, or are local codes within functionally distinct brain regions, is far from settled. The aim of the proposed workshop is to bring together experts in the field of neural coding, in order to discuss basic mechanisms of information encoding and the deeper question of whether there is a unifying grammar of neural representations.

It is crucial for systems neuroscience to go beyond local mechanisms towards the search for a universal neural grammar. This will lead to a deeper understanding of brain function, which can be succeeded by returning to specific circuits with fresh ideas and new insights. Moreover, it is only now becoming conceivable to answer these far-reaching questions, in light of recent advances in data acquisition, which provide access to larger cell populations from several brain regions simultaneously.