Current population coding methods, including weighted averaging and Bayesian estimation, are based on extrinsic representations. These require that neurons be labeled with response parameters, such as tuning curve peaks or noise distributions, which are tied to some external, world-based metric scale. Firing rates alone, without this external labeling, are insufficient to represent a variable. However, the extrinsic approach does not explain how such neural labeling is implemented. A radically different and perhaps more physiological approach is based on intrinsic representations, which have access only to firing rates. Because neurons are unlabeled, intrinsic coding represents relative, rather than absolute, values of a variable. We show that intrinsic coding has representational advantages, including invariance, categorization, and discrimination, and in certain situations it may also recover absolute stimulus values.

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