Is uncertainty reduction the basis for perception? Errors in Norwich’s Entropy Theory of Perception imply otherwise

Proceedings of the World Congress on Engineering and Computer Science 2010 (Lecture Notes in Engineering and Computer Science) 2 (2010)
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This paper reveals errors within Norwich et al.’s Entropy Theory of Perception, errors that have broad implications for our understanding of perception. What Norwich and coauthors dubbed their “informational theory of neural coding” is based on cybernetics, that is, control and communication in man and machine. The Entropy Theory uses information theory to interpret human performance in absolute judgments. There, the continuum of the intensity of a sensory stimulus is cut into categories and the subject is shown exemplar stimuli of each category. The subject must then identify individual exemplars by category. The identifications are recorded in the Garner-Hake version of the Shannon “confusion matrix”. The matrix yields “H”, the entropy (degree of uncertainty) about what stimulus was presented. Hypothetically, uncertainty drops as a stimulus lengthens, i.e. a plot of H vs. stimulus duration should fall monotonically. Such “adaptation” is known for both sensation and firing rate. Hence, because “the physiological adaptation curve has the same general shape as the psychophysical adaptation curve”, Norwich et al. assumed that both have the same time course; sensation and firing rate were thus both declared proportional to H. However, a closer look reveals insurmountable contradictions. First, the peripheral neuron hypothetically cannot fire in response to a stimulus of a given intensity until after somehow computing H from its responses to stimuli of various intensities. Thus no sensation occurs until firing rate adapts, i.e. attains its spontaneous rate. But hypothetically, once adaptation is complete, certainty is reached and perception ends. Altogether, then, perception cannot occur until perception is over. Secondly, sensations, firing rates, and H’s are empirically not synchronous, contrary to assumption. In sum, the core concept of the cybernetics-based Entropy Theory of Perception, that is, that uncertainty reduction is the basis for perception, is irrational.

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