The structured 'low temperature' phase of the retinal population code.
Recent advances in experimental techniques have allowed the simultaneous recordings of populations of hundreds of neurons, fostering a debate about the nature of the collective structure of population neural activity. Much of this debate has focused on the empirical findings of a phase transition in the parameter space of maximum entropy models describing the measured neural probability distributions, interpreting this phase transition to indicate a critical tuning of the neural code. Here, we instead focus on the possibility that this is a first-order phase transition which provides evidence that the real neural population is in a 'structured', collective state. We show that this collective state is robust to changes in stimulus ensemble and adaptive state. We find that the pattern of pairwise correlations between neurons has a strength that is well within the strongly correlated regime and does not require fine tuning, suggesting that this state is generic for populations of 100+ neurons. We find a clear correspondence between the emergence of a phase transition, and the emergence of attractor-like structure in the inferred energy landscape. A collective state in the neural population, in which neural activity patterns naturally form clusters, provides a consistent interpretation for our results.