Date of Award

2017

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Neuroscience

First Advisor

Vijay Balasubramanian

Second Advisor

Joshua I. Gold

Abstract

Animal brains are remarkably efficient in handling complex computational tasks, which are intractable even for state-of-the-art computers. For instance, our ability to detect visual objects in the presence of substantial variability and clutter sur- passes any algorithm. This ability seems even more surprising given the noisiness and biophysical constraints of neural circuits. This thesis focuses on understanding the theoretical principles governing how neural systems, at various scales, are adapted to the structure of their environment in order to interact with it and perform informa- tion processing tasks efficiently. Here, we study this question in three very different and challenging scenarios: i) how a sensory neural circuit the olfactory pathway is organised to efficiently process odour stimuli in a very high-dimensional space with complex structure; ii) how individual neurons in the sensory periphery exploit the structure in a fast-changing environment to utilise their dynamic range efficiently; iii) how the auditory system of whole organisms is able to efficiently exploit temporal structure in a noisy, fast-changing environment to optimise perception of ambiguous sounds. We also study the theoretical issues in developing principled measures of model complexity and extending classical complexity notions to explicitly account for the scale/resolution at which we observe a system.

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