Information and Decision Theory Explain Why There are Neural Pulse Trains – Toby Berger (Cornell University)

February 1, 2000 all-day

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We model the transfer of information from one cell to another via a generalization of the Shannon-Blackwell billiard ball channel. Applying information and decision theory to this model, we determine that the minimum number of ions of a given type (in practice, usually Na+ ions) that need to be infused into the intercellular cavity in order to permit reliable detection of said infusion is N = p^1/3 b^2/3, where b is the cardinality of the channel storage and p is the prior concentration of the ion type in question within the channel store. This provides, in turn, a simple explanation of why there are neural pulse trains in the peripheral nervous system (PNS). It also renders transparent a result, heretofore painstakingly established via thousands of hours of experimentation, that the information conveyed by PNS pulse trains resides solely in time variations in the pulsing rate, not in the detailed shapes of the pulses or in the precise durations that separate successive pulses. The capacity of the large-b Shannon-Blackwell channel is shown to be O(b^-2/3), and coding schemes that send information reliably at such a rates will be exhibited.

Toby Berger was born in New York, NY on September 4, 1940. He received the B.E. degree in electrical engineering from Yale University, New Haven, CT in 1962, and the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in applied mathematics from Harvard University, Cambridge, MA in 1964 and 1966, respectively.
From 1962 to 1968 he was a Senior Scientist at Raytheon Company, Wayland, MA, specializing in communication theory, information theory, and coherent signal processing. In 1968 he joined the faculty of Cornell University, Ithaca, NY where he is presently the Irwin and Joan Jacobs Professor of Engineering. His research interests include multiterminal coding theory, the information theory of random fields, communication networks, wireless communications, video compression, voice and signature compression and verification, and coherent signal processing. He is the author of the textbook Rate Distortion Theory: A Mathematical Basis for Data Compression and a co-author of Digital Compression for Multimedia: Principles and Standards and of Information Measures for Discrete Random Fields.
Dr. Berger has served as editor-in-chief of the IEEE Transactions on Information Theory and as president of the IEEE Information Theory Group. He has been a Fellow of the Guggenheim Foundation, the Japan Society for Promotion of Science, the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China and the Fulbright Foundation. He received the 1982 Frederick E. Terman Award of the American Society for Engineering Education for outstanding contributions by a young electrical engineering educator. Dr. Berger is a Fellow of the IEEE and a life member of Tau Beta Pi.

Center for Language and Speech Processing