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In 1953 Barlow discovered that the frog brain has neurons which fire in response to specific visual stimuli. This was a precursor to the work of Hubel and Weisel on visual receptive fields in the visual cortex. He has made a long study of visual inhibition, the process whereby a neuron firing in response to one group of retinal cells can inhibit the firing of another neuron; this allows perception of relative contrast.
In 1961 Barlow wrote a seminal article where he asked what the computational aims of the visual system are. He concluded that one of the main aims of visual processing is the reduction of redundancy. While the brightnesses of neighbouring points in images are usually very similar, the Retina reduces this redundancy. His work thus was central to the field of statistics of natural scenes that relates the statistics of images of real world scenes to the properties of the nervous system.
Barlow is the son of the civil servant Sir Alan Barlow and Nora Darwin, and thus the great-grandson of Charles Darwin. Barlow is a fellow of Trinity College, University of Cambridge. He received the 1993 Australia Prize for his research into the mechanisms of visual perception.
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