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      What Is Stochastic Resonance? Definitions, Misconceptions, Debates, and Its Relevance to Biology

      review-article
      1 , * , 2
      PLoS Computational Biology
      Public Library of Science

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          Abstract

          Stochastic resonance is said to be observed when increases in levels of unpredictable fluctuations—e.g., random noise—cause an increase in a metric of the quality of signal transmission or detection performance, rather than a decrease. This counterintuitive effect relies on system nonlinearities and on some parameter ranges being “suboptimal”. Stochastic resonance has been observed, quantified, and described in a plethora of physical and biological systems, including neurons. Being a topic of widespread multidisciplinary interest, the definition of stochastic resonance has evolved significantly over the last decade or so, leading to a number of debates, misunderstandings, and controversies. Perhaps the most important debate is whether the brain has evolved to utilize random noise in vivo, as part of the “neural code”. Surprisingly, this debate has been for the most part ignored by neuroscientists, despite much indirect evidence of a positive role for noise in the brain. We explore some of the reasons for this and argue why it would be more surprising if the brain did not exploit randomness provided by noise—via stochastic resonance or otherwise—than if it did. We also challenge neuroscientists and biologists, both computational and experimental, to embrace a very broad definition of stochastic resonance in terms of signal-processing “noise benefits”, and to devise experiments aimed at verifying that random variability can play a functional role in the brain, nervous system, or other areas of biology.

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          Stochastic resonance and the benefits of noise: from ice ages to crayfish and SQUIDs.

          Noise in dynamical systems is usually considered a nuisance. But in certain nonlinear systems, including electronic circuits and biological sensory apparatus, the presence of noise can in fact enhance the detection of weak signals. This phenomenon, called stochastic resonance, may find useful application in physical, technological and biomedical contexts.
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            Is Open Access

            The Dynamic Brain: From Spiking Neurons to Neural Masses and Cortical Fields

            The cortex is a complex system, characterized by its dynamics and architecture, which underlie many functions such as action, perception, learning, language, and cognition. Its structural architecture has been studied for more than a hundred years; however, its dynamics have been addressed much less thoroughly. In this paper, we review and integrate, in a unifying framework, a variety of computational approaches that have been used to characterize the dynamics of the cortex, as evidenced at different levels of measurement. Computational models at different space–time scales help us understand the fundamental mechanisms that underpin neural processes and relate these processes to neuroscience data. Modeling at the single neuron level is necessary because this is the level at which information is exchanged between the computing elements of the brain; the neurons. Mesoscopic models tell us how neural elements interact to yield emergent behavior at the level of microcolumns and cortical columns. Macroscopic models can inform us about whole brain dynamics and interactions between large-scale neural systems such as cortical regions, the thalamus, and brain stem. Each level of description relates uniquely to neuroscience data, from single-unit recordings, through local field potentials to functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), electroencephalogram (EEG), and magnetoencephalogram (MEG). Models of the cortex can establish which types of large-scale neuronal networks can perform computations and characterize their emergent properties. Mean-field and related formulations of dynamics also play an essential and complementary role as forward models that can be inverted given empirical data. This makes dynamic models critical in integrating theory and experiments. We argue that elaborating principled and informed models is a prerequisite for grounding empirical neuroscience in a cogent theoretical framework, commensurate with the achievements in the physical sciences.
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              The Bayesian brain: the role of uncertainty in neural coding and computation.

              To use sensory information efficiently to make judgments and guide action in the world, the brain must represent and use information about uncertainty in its computations for perception and action. Bayesian methods have proven successful in building computational theories for perception and sensorimotor control, and psychophysics is providing a growing body of evidence that human perceptual computations are "Bayes' optimal". This leads to the "Bayesian coding hypothesis": that the brain represents sensory information probabilistically, in the form of probability distributions. Several computational schemes have recently been proposed for how this might be achieved in populations of neurons. Neurophysiological data on the hypothesis, however, is almost non-existent. A major challenge for neuroscientists is to test these ideas experimentally, and so determine whether and how neurons code information about sensory uncertainty.
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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                Role: Editor
                Journal
                PLoS Comput Biol
                plos
                ploscomp
                PLoS Computational Biology
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
                1553-734X
                1553-7358
                May 2009
                May 2009
                29 May 2009
                : 5
                : 5
                : e1000348
                Affiliations
                [1 ]Institute for Telecommunications Research, University of South Australia, Mawson Lakes, South Australia, Australia
                [2 ]Centre for Biomedical Engineering and School of Electrical & Electronic Engineering, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
                University College London, United Kingdom
                Author notes
                Article
                08-PLCB-RV-1195R2
                10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000348
                2660436
                19562010
                8a0bb633-1419-4c41-aace-890bd0c16966
                McDonnell, Abbott. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
                History
                Page count
                Pages: 9
                Categories
                Review
                Biophysics
                Biotechnology/Bioengineering
                Computational Biology/Computational Neuroscience
                Neuroscience
                Neuroscience/Behavioral Neuroscience
                Neuroscience/Cognitive Neuroscience
                Neuroscience/Neuronal Signaling Mechanisms
                Neuroscience/Sensory Systems
                Neuroscience/Theoretical Neuroscience
                Physics/Interdisciplinary Physics
                Physiology/Sensory Systems

                Quantitative & Systems biology
                Quantitative & Systems biology

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