[Comp-neuro] Hilbert's questions

james bower bower at uthscsa.edu
Tue Aug 12 16:37:55 CEST 2008

Ego, me -- HA!!!


Anyway - I don't believe, as I indicated in the book review, that we  
are anywhere near being able to come up with the kind of formal  
identification of problems that Hilbert's 23 problems identified in  
mathematics in 1900.  We have a deep infrastructure problem, in my  
opinion.   I am not even convinced that biological systems are  
particularly amenable to anything comparable to an axiomatic approach  
to  understanding the relationships between things.  With respect to  
Hilbert, however, it is perhaps interesting that one of his beefs with  
Euclid was with the assignment of meaning to mathematical objects  
which he felt should be considered meaningless -- thus, perhaps, he  
was also concerned about the tyranny of ideas - and in particular, was  
trying to reduce reliance on human intuition, replacing it with a more  
formal system of description and discovery.  In this sense, perhaps,  
Hilbert was the equivalent of a "realistic modeler" within mathematics.

As far as the grande (sic) questions in neuroscience go, at the  
grandest level it seems to me there is only one question:  "What is  
each neuron communicating, and how is the message encoded."

Once we know that, the rest is clean up.

That said, it could be an interesting exercise to come up with a list  
of the current Top Ten Topics attracting the attention of  
computational neurobiologists. Anyone want to give it a try?


On Aug 12, 2008, at 8:51 AM, Bill Lytton wrote:

> Jim:
> I've been following with interest and have found myself in agreement  
> with most of your points --
> not surprising perhaps since I'm also from the bio rather than the  
> physics side of the great
> divide.
> The problem with the Hilbert knockoff that you reviewed was of  
> course that it was n guys rather
> than 1 guy.
> So we need the guy -- needs to be someone with a reasonably large  
> view of the field and a
> reasonably large ego :) -- how about you Jim? -- or Christof or  
> Terry or Bard? (apologies
> to the many others who should also be named)
> perhaps Bard and Jim need to work together on this since 2 heads are  
> better than 23 if not as
> good as 1, though perhaps better if coming from 2 different cultures
> this kind of thing may be better done in a listserv rather than a  
> meeting anyway
> Bill
> PS was also enviously following the locales and beverages -- I'm  
> stuck with diet pepsi
> in flatbush
> -- 
> William W. Lytton, MD
> Professor of Physiology, Pharmacology, Biomedical Engineering,  
> Neurology
> State University of NY, Downstate Medical Center, Brooklyn, NY
> billl at neurosim.downstate.edu http://it.neurosim.downstate.edu/~billl
> ________________________________________________________________


Dr. James M. Bower Ph.D.

Professor of Computational Neuroscience

Research Imaging Center
University of Texas Health Science Center -
-  San Antonio
8403 Floyd Curl Drive
San Antonio Texas  78284-6240

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