Binding operation is fundamental to many cognitive processes, such as cognitive map formation, relational reasoning, and language comprehension. In these processes, two different modalities, such as location and objects, events and their contextual cues, and words and their roles, need to be bound together, but little is known about the underlying neural mechanisms. Previous work has introduced a binding model based on quadratic functions of bound pairs, followed by vector summation of multiple pairs. Based on this framework, we address the following questions: Which classes of quadratic matrices are optimal for decoding relational structures? And what is the resultant accuracy? We introduce a new class of binding matrices based on a matrix representation of octonion algebra, an eight-dimensional extension of complex numbers. We show that these matrices enable a more accurate unbinding than previously known methods when a small number of pairs are present. Moreover, numerical optimization of a binding operator converges to this octonion binding. We also show that when there are a large number of bound pairs, however, a random quadratic binding performs, as well as the octonion and previously proposed binding methods. This study thus provides new insight into potential neural mechanisms of binding operations in the brain.

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