Publication 518

Lettvin J. Y., Maturana H. R., McCulloch W. S. & Pitts W. H. (1959) What the frog’s eye tells the frog’s brain. Proceedings of the Institute of Radio Engineers (IRE) 47(11): 1940–1951. Fulltext at
In this paper, we analyze the activity of single fibers in the optic nerve of a frog. Our method is to find what sort of stimulus causes the largest activity in one nerve fiber and then what is the exciting aspect of that stimulus such that variations in everything else cause little change in the response. It has been known for the past 20 years that each fiber is connected not to a few rods and cones in the retina but to very many over a fair area. Our results show that for the most part within that area, it is not the light intensity itself but rather the pattern of local variation of intensity that is the exciting factor. There are four types of fibers, each type concerned with a different sort of pattern. Each type is uniformly distributed over the whole retina of the frog. Thus, there are four distinct parallel distributed channels whereby the frog’s eye informs his brain about the visual image in terms of local pattern independent of average illumination. We describe the patterns and show the functional and anatomical separation of the channels. This work has been done on the frog, and our interpretation applies only to the frog.
Reprinted in: McCulloch R. (ed.) (1989) The collected works of Warren S. McCulloch. Volume 4. Intersystems Publications, Salinas CA: 1161–1172. Reprinted in: McCulloch W. S. (1965) Embodiments of mind. MIT Press, Cambridge MA: 230–255. Second printing in 1989 with original pagination preserved. Also reprinted as Chapter 7 in: Corning W. C. & Balaban M. (eds.) (1968) The mind: Biological approaches to its functions. Wiley, New York: 233–258. German translation: Lettvin J. Y., Maturana H. R., McCulloch W. S. & Pitts W. H. (2000) Was das Froschauge dem Froschgehirn erzählt


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