Low-level perception results from neural-based computations, which build a multimodal skeleton of unconscious or self-generated inferences on our environment. This review identifies bottleneck issues concerning the role of early primary sensory cortical areas, mostly in rodent and higher mammals (cats and non-human primates), where perception substrates can be searched at multiple scales of neural integration. We discuss the limitation of purely bottom-up approaches for providing realistic models of early sensory processing and the need for identification of fast adaptive processes, operating within the time of a percept. Future progresses will depend on the careful use of comparative neuroscience (guiding the choices of experimental models and species adapted to the questions under study), on the definition of agreed-upon benchmarks for sensory stimulation, on the simultaneous acquisition of neural data at multiple spatio-temporal scales, and on the in vivo identification of key generic integration and plasticity algorithms validated experimentally and in simulations.
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