Laboratory for Computational Neuroscience at Albert Einstein College of Medicine

Investigating neural computation in natural sensory processing

WHAT? The Coen-Cagli lab studies neural computation with the broader goal of explaining our perceptual experience. A central function of the visual system is to produce correct interpretations of sensory signals, to guide appropriate behavioral responses. However, the surrounding environment is in general ambiguous (e.g. different objects can produce similar retinal images) and computationally intractable (e.g. the same object can produce countless different retinal images). To solve these problems, the brain must evaluate how probable different interpretations of the sensory input are. Understanding such probabilistic inference in natural sensory processing will be central to understanding perception, and much of the computation realized by cortical neurons.

HOW? The lab follows a hypothesis-driven approach to understanding cortical processing of natural images and linking it to visual perception. Computer vision and machine learning provide insights into the complex structure of natural signals and how they could be processed efficiently. Probabilistic neural coding provides the theoretical framework to understand how veridical perception is achieved in face of abundant sensory noise and image ambiguities. We combine advances in both fields to generate novel hypotheses about cortical computation in natural vision, and test them experimentally with psychophysics in the lab and electrophysiology through collaborations.

WHY? Explaining how the human visual system achieves its impressive feats – from fast and accurate recognition of people and their actions, to the appreciation of Picasso’s Guernica – is a major goal of neuroscience, and more generally biology and medicine. Our research aims to contribute a substantial step forward to this endeavor, by taking a principled approach to studying the visual system in its natural operation mode. In the longer run, we hope this research will contribute to elucidating how the brain produces the vivid, coherent, stable percepts we experience in everyday life; to advancing technologies that could restore impaired vision and enhance normal vision; and to deciphering the neural basis of human visual creativity.

2017.09 - We will be at the Cognitive Computational Neuroscience Conference on Sept 6-8 to present new work on neuronal population variability and image statistics.

2017.09 - I will be at the Bernstein Conference workshops on Sept 12-13 to talk about neuronal population variability in natural vision.

2017.05 - Congrats to Dylan Festa for being accepted at the Woods Hole summer school on Brains, Minds and Machines!