A recurrent idea in the study of complex systems is that optimal information processing is to be found near phase transitions [1-3]. However, this heuristic hypothesis has few (if any) concrete realizations where a standard and biologically relevant quantity is optimized at criticality. Here we give a clear example of such phenomenon: a network of excitable elements has its sensitivity and dynamic range maximized at the critical point of a nonequilibrium phase transition. Our results are compatible with the essential role of gap junctions in olfactory glomeruli and retinal ganglion cell output. Synchronization and global oscillations also emerge from the network dynamics. We propose that the main functional role of electrical coupling is to provide an enhancement of dynamic range, therefore allowing the coding of information spanning several orders of magnitude. The mechanism provides a microscopic neural basis for psychophysical laws.
Physica D 1990, 42:12-37. Publisher Full Text
Physica A 2004, 340:756-765. Publisher Full Text