Untangling invariant object recognition

Trends Cogn Sci. 2007 Aug;11(8):333-41. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2007.06.010. Epub 2007 Jul 16.


Despite tremendous variation in the appearance of visual objects, primates can recognize a multitude of objects, each in a fraction of a second, with no apparent effort. However, the brain mechanisms that enable this fundamental ability are not understood. Drawing on ideas from neurophysiology and computation, we present a graphical perspective on the key computational challenges of object recognition, and argue that the format of neuronal population representation and a property that we term 'object tangling' are central. We use this perspective to show that the primate ventral visual processing stream achieves a particularly effective solution in which single-neuron invariance is not the goal. Finally, we speculate on the key neuronal mechanisms that could enable this solution, which, if understood, would have far-reaching implications for cognitive neuroscience.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Attention / physiology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Concept Formation / physiology
  • Decision Making / physiology
  • Depth Perception / physiology
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Primates
  • Retina / physiology*
  • Visual Pathways / physiology