Constructing stable spatial maps of the world,Perception, 11 (41), 1355-1372.
To interact rapidly and effectively with our environment, our brain needs access to a neural representation—or map—of the spatial layout of the external world. However, the construction of such a map poses major challenges to the visual system, given that the images on our retinae depend on where the eyes are looking, and shift each time we move our eyes, head, and body to explore the world. Much research has been devoted to how the stability is achieved, with the debate often polarized between the utility of spatiotopic maps (that remain solid in external coordinates), as opposed to transiently updated retinotopic maps. Our research suggests that the visual system uses both strategies to maintain stability. f MRI, motion-adaptation, and saccade-adaptation studies demonstrate and characterize spatiotopic neural maps within the dorsal visual stream that remain solid in external rather than retinal coordinates. However, the construction of these maps takes time (up to 500 ms) and attentional resources. To solve the immediate problems created by individual saccades, we postulate the existence of a separate system to bridge each saccade with neural units that are ‘transiently craniotopic’. These units prepare for the effects of saccades with a shift of their receptive fields before the saccade starts, then relaxing back into their standard position during the saccade, compensating for its action. Psychophysical studies investigating localization of stimuli flashed briefly around the time of saccades provide strong support for these neural mechanisms, and show quantitatively how they integrate information across saccades. This transient system cooperates with the spatiotopic mechanism to provide a useful map to guide interactions with our environment: one rapid and transitory, bringing into play the high-resolution visual areas; the other slow, long-lasting, and low-resolution, useful for interacting with the world.