Visual space is represented by cortical cells in an orderly manner. Only little variation in the cell behavior is found with changing depth below the cortical surface, that is, all cells in a column with axis perpendicular to the cortical plane have approximately the same properties (Hubel and Wiesel 1962, 1963, 1968). Therefore, the multiple features of the visual space (e.g., position in visual space, preferred orientation, and orientation tuning strength) are mapped on a two-dimensional space, the cortical plane. Such a dimension reduction leads to complex maps (Durbin and Mitchison 1990) that so far have evaded an intuitive understanding. Analyzing optical imaging data (Blasdel 1992a, b; Blasdel and Salama 1986; Grinvald et al. 1986) using a theoretical approach we will show that the most salient features of these maps can be understood from a few basic design principles: local correlation, modularity, isotropy, and homogeneity. These principles can be defined in a mathematically exact sense in the Fourier domain by a rather simple annulus-like spectral structure. Many of the models that have been developed to explain the mapping of the preferred orientations (Cooper et al. 1979; Legendy 1978; Linsker 1986a, b; Miller 1992; Nass and Cooper 1975; Obermayer et al. 1990, 1992; Soodak 1987; Swindale 1982, 1985, 1992; von der Malsburg 1973; von der Malsburg and Cowan 1982) are quite successful in generating maps that are close to experimental maps. We suggest that this success is due to these principles, which are common properties of the models and of biological maps.

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