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• volume 1 no 8 • december 1998647
How do you see where you’re going? Asyou move about the world, a pattern of motion called optic flow is generated atyour moving eye. Somehow, from thisflux of light, you are able to perceive yourcurrent path of travel, avoid obstacles, andreach your destination. The question of how this is done is of interest to psychol-ogists studying perceptual-motor func-tion, neuroscientists pursuing theunderlying neural mechanisms, comput-er scientists building visually guidedrobots, and indeed anyone who can walk or drive.One answer was proposed 50 years agoby James Gibson
. He noted that whenyou travel on a straight path, the opticflow necessarily forms a radial patternwith a focus of expansion lying in yourcurrent direction of self-motion or head-be detected by a mobile eye in a mobilehead. To use optic flow as a source of directional information, the system mustsomehow compensate for these move-ments. Previous work has shown thatextra-retinal information about move-ments of the eye within the head con-tributes to the perception of heading. Inthis issue(pages 732–737),Crowell,Banks, Shenoy and Andersen report thestriking finding that the visual system alsomakes use of extra-retinal informationabout head turns.To visualize the problem, imagine try-ing to build a robot that can guide itself through the world based only on visualinformation from a video camera. Whenthe robot travels on a straight path, theing (
). Consequently, you could usethis focus as a ‘point of aim’ to steertoward goals and around obstacles. Inpractice, however, things are more com-plicated, because this flow pattern must
Perception of heading is abrain in the neck
William H. Warren
How can you see where you are heading, given that your eyesand head can move relative to your body? Extra-retinalinformation about neck movements is part of the answer.
William H. Warren is at the Department of Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences, Box 1978, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island 02912, USA.e-mail: Bill Warren@brown.edu
Examples of retinalflow fields for travel parallelto a ground plane. Each vec-tor represents the instanta-neous retinal velocity of apoint in the environment.
Radial velocity field pro-duced by translation onstraight path (s). The focusof expansion lies at the ‘X’.
Velocity field producedby simultaneous translationon straight path (s) androtation about a verticalaxis to fixate the ‘O’. Thesame instantaneous flowfield is produced by travelon circular path (c), whilelooking along the tangent tothe path.
inhibit neurogenesis in the adult humanbrain, we might eventually find a way toinduce it in specific neurodegenerative dis-orders or following stroke and trauma, byblocking or bypassing the inhibition of mitotic activity. An additional benefit fromdiscovering such inhibitory factors may bein the treatment of malignancy, where thegoal is just the opposite, to prevent celldivision. Finally, a promising approachmay be the transplantation of stem cells tothe affected brain areas. Recent grafting of human fetal neural stem cells into new-born mice demonstrates that such cells canboth survive and, remarkably, migrate anddifferentiate into locally appropriate phe-notypes—oligodendrocytes, astrocytes andneurons
. In these experiments, how-ever, the host animals were newborns, inwhich the essential developmental cues arestill preserved. For example, radial glial cellscaffolding, an essential substrate for long-distance migration of the cortical neu-rons
, is absent in the adult cerebrum. It istherefore unclear whether transplantedneurons would migrate or differentiateappropriately in the adult brain. Further-more, even if they do, this may not be suf-ficient to restore their function. Neuronsin affected structures operate mainlythrough their precise, long-distance con-nections, which would also need to be re-established. To generate such connectionsin the large adult human brain may not bea trivial task. Nevertheless, the wordimpossible is not in the vocabulary of con-temporary neuroscience.
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