Luke Rast, Jan Drugowitsch
The adaptation of neural codes to the statistics of their environment is well captured by efficient coding approaches. Here we solve an inverse problem: characterizing the objective and constraint functions that efficient codes appear to be optimal for, on the basis of how they adapt to different stimulus distributions. We formulate a general efficient coding problem, with flexible objective and constraint functions and minimal parametric assumptions. Solving special cases of this model, we provide solutions to broad classes of Fisher information-based efficient coding problems, generalizing a wide range of previous results. We show that different objective function types impose qualitatively different adaptation behaviors, while constraints enforce characteristic deviations from classic efficient coding signatures. Despite interaction between these effects, clear signatures emerge for both unconstrained optimization problems and information-maximizing objective functions. Asking for a fixed-point of the neural code adaptation, we find an objective-independent characterization of constraints on the neural code. We use this result to propose an experimental paradigm that can characterize both the objective and constraint functions that an observed code appears to be optimized for.