Journal of Statistical Physics

, Volume 125, Issue 5, pp 1243-1266

First online:

Patterns and Symmetries in the Visual Cortex and in Natural Images

  • Ha Youn LeeAffiliated withTheoretical Biology and Biophysics Group, LosAlamos National Laboratory Email author 
  • , Mehran KardarAffiliated withDepartment of Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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As borders between different entities, lines are an important element of natural images. Indeed, the neurons of the mammalian visual cortex are tuned to respond best to lines of a given orientation. This preferred orientation varies continuously across most of the cortex, but also has vortex-like singularities known as pinwheels. In attempting to describe such patterns of orientation preference, we are led to consider underlying rotation symmetries: Oriented segments in natural images tend to be collinear; neurons are more likely to be connected if their preferred orientations are aligned to their topographic separation. These are indications of a reduced symmetry requiring joint rotations of both orientation preference and the underlying topography. This is verified by direct statistical tests in both natural images and in cortical maps. Using the statistics of natural scenes we construct filters that are best suited to extracting information from such images, and find qualitative similarities to mammalian vision.


Visual cortex Orientational preference map Pinwheel structure Joint rotational symmetry Transversality Information optimization