Causal Inference and Explaining Away in a Spiking Network

Sci Rep. 2015 Dec 1;5:17531. doi: 10.1038/srep17531.


While the brain uses spiking neurons for communication, theoretical research on brain computations has mostly focused on non-spiking networks. The nature of spike-based algorithms that achieve complex computations, such as object probabilistic inference, is largely unknown. Here we demonstrate that a family of high-dimensional quadratic optimization problems with non-negativity constraints can be solved exactly and efficiently by a network of spiking neurons. The network naturally imposes the non-negativity of causal contributions that is fundamental to causal inference, and uses simple operations, such as linear synapses with realistic time constants, and neural spike generation and reset non-linearities. The network infers the set of most likely causes from an observation using explaining away, which is dynamically implemented by spike-based, tuned inhibition. The algorithm performs remarkably well even when the network intrinsically generates variable spike trains, the timing of spikes is scrambled by external sources of noise, or the network is mistuned. This type of network might underlie tasks such as odor identification and classification.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Nerve Net / physiology*