We show that the information carried by compound events in neural spike trains—patterns of spikes across time or across a population of cells—can be measured, independent of assumptions about what these patterns might represent. By comparing the information carried by a compound pattern with the information carried independently by its parts, we directly measure the synergy among these parts. We illustrate the use of these methods by applying them to experiments on the motion-sensitive neuron H1 of the fly's visual system, where we confirm that two spikes close together in time carry far more than twice the information carried by a single spike. We analyze the sources of this synergy and provide evidence that pairs of spikes close together in time may be especially important patterns in the code of H1.

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