Skip navigation
Hardcover | Out of Print | ISBN: 9780262181747 | 408 pp. | 7 x 8.9 in | December 1996
Paperback | $50.00 Text | £37.95 | ISBN: 9780262681087 | 408 pp. | 7 x 8.9 in | July 1999


Exploring the Neural Code


Our perception of the world is driven by input from the sensory nerves. This input arrives encoded as sequences of identical spikes. Much of neural computation involves processing these spike trains. What does it mean to say that a certain set of spikes is the right answer to a computational problem? In what sense does a spike train convey information about the sensory world? Spikes begins by providing precise formulations of these and related questions about the representation of sensory signals in neural spike trains. The answers to these questions are then pursued in experiments on sensory neurons.The authors invite the reader to play the role of a hypothetical observer inside the brain who makes decisions based on the incoming spike trains. Rather than asking how a neuron responds to a given stimulus, the authors ask how the brain could make inferences about an unknown stimulus from a given neural response. The flavor of some problems faced by the organism is captured by analyzing the way in which the observer can make a running reconstruction of the sensory stimulus as it evolves in time. These ideas are illustrated by examples from experiments on several biological systems.

Intended for neurobiologists with an interest in mathematical analysis of neural data as well as the growing number of physicists and mathematicians interested in information processing by "real" nervous systems, Spikes provides a self-contained review of relevant concepts in information theory and statistical decision theory. A quantitative framework is used to pose precise questions about the structure of the neural code. These questions in turn influence both the design and analysis of experiments on sensory neurons.


“A joy to read...This book will undoubtedly become a classic. The ideas presented in it have already begun (in no small part through the work of the authors) to reshape our views of the neural code. This book will make them accessible to a much wider audience.”—Anthony Zador


“"Spikes is a masterful account of a methodology that has become essential for anyone studying how neuronal spiking patterns encode information. New results and techniques are clearly and insightfully presented and placed within the historical context of earlier work. Both this book and the techniques described in it are likely to become classics in the field."”
L. F. abbott, Volan Center for Complex Systems, Brandeis University
“"Spikes is an ode to the single spike, where it points to, what information it carries and how reliable it is. It is quite pleasing to see innovative concepts from the sixties and seventies mature and being integrated into a powerful method to quantify nervous system action. The various digressions and inside physicist's puns makes this book a joy to read. Mandatory for neuroscientists not afraid of a quantitative approach and wanting to replace hand waving with numbers."”
Jos J. Eggermont, Alberta Heritage Medical Scientist; Professor, Department of Psychology, The University of Calgary
“"Spikes is a joy to read and flows smoothly even in technical sections. The field of computational neuroscience desperately needs a book as well-written and thought out as this one."”
Joseph Atick, rockefeller University; Editor in Chief, Network: Computation In Neural Systems
“"Every now and again there is a book that is written with equal respect for the English language, the reader, and its subject matter. Spikes: Exploring the Neural Code is a pleasure. It deals with a fundamental issue in neuroscience -- how information about the world is represented in sensory spike trains -- how information about the world is represented in sensory spike trains -- and does so with clarity for the neuroscientist and rigor for the computational community. This book should become a classic in computational neuroscience."”
Eve Marder, Victor and Gwendolyn Beinfield Professor of Neuroscience, Volen Center and Department of Biology, Brandeis University
“"Spikes opens a valuable dialog about how neural codes are used as well as formed. It is wonderful to see such careful attention to the implications of individual spikes, both as elements of neural codes and as signals in their own right that have to be 'read out' to create perceptions. This is an excellent book that covers an important aspect of neuroscience and biophysics -- how the spike responses of neurons might be used to reconstruct information about the environment as well as organized to represent the stimulus. This is an exciting and rigorous book that explains with clarity and detail how widely-accepted neurophysiological results from several different sensory systems indicate that single spikes must count, and that response-rates and neuronal maps do not exhaust the properties needed to explain perception."”
James A. Simmons, Professor, Department of Neuroscience, Division of Biology and Medicine, Brown University
“"This monograph by Bialek and his group is a milestone in the analysis of the quantitative relationship between the firing of nerve cells (in the brain) and the amount of information they transmit. Drawing upon a wealth of physiological experiments, it makes the point that individual action potentials can convey one or more bits of information about the stimulus, permanently changing our attitude about the brain as a fuzzy computational soup that can only act via activity in an incountable number of neurons. This book will become a classic."”
Christof Koch, Professor of Computation and Neural Systems, California Institute of Technology
Spikes is a really wonderful book. The particular theory about how the brain works that informs the presentation, and thus determines how neural coding is to be described, is clearly thought through and the arguments are attractively and intelligently presented.”
Charles F. Stevens, The Salk Institute