From Blickets to Synapses: Inferring Temporal Causal Networks by Observation


  • Chrisantha Fernando

    Corresponding author
    1. School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Queen Mary University of London
    • Correspondence should be sent to Dr. Chrisantha Fernando, School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Queen Mary University of London, Mile End, E1 4NS London, UK. E-mail:

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How do human infants learn the causal dependencies between events? Evidence suggests that this remarkable feat can be achieved by observation of only a handful of examples. Many computational models have been produced to explain how infants perform causal inference without explicit teaching about statistics or the scientific method. Here, we propose a spiking neuronal network implementation that can be entrained to form a dynamical model of the temporal and causal relationships between events that it observes. The network uses spike-time dependent plasticity, long-term depression, and heterosynaptic competition rules to implement Rescorla–Wagner-like learning. Transmission delays between neurons allow the network to learn a forward model of the temporal relationships between events. Within this framework, biologically realistic synaptic plasticity rules account for well-known behavioral data regarding cognitive causal assumptions such as backwards blocking and screening-off. These models can then be run as emulators for state inference. Furthermore, this mechanism is capable of copying synaptic connectivity patterns between neuronal networks by observing the spontaneous spike activity from the neuronal circuit that is to be copied, and it thereby provides a powerful method for transmission of circuit functionality between brain regions.