[Comp-neuro] Re: Attractors, variability and noise

james bower bower at uthscsa.edu
Wed Aug 13 17:16:22 CEST 2008

Obviously, the question of what we can and can't understand as  
individuals, or groups of individuals is somewhere near the core of  
this discussion.  Many would claim, as Brad does here, that of  
necessity our descriptions of things (brains) can not exceed the  
ability of humans to communicate what they understand.

Several years ago, I was approached by a senior VP at Dessault (the  
French company that makes the Mirage Jet Fighter), who was interested  
in the GENESIS project.  The reason she was interested was because her  
company was already facing a "sum is greater than the parts" problem  
with the software system they use to design their jets.  She told me  
that there was no one individual who understood the entire software  
system, and therefore, no one who could assure that there wasn't some  
collective flaw resulting from the interaction of the multiple  
software modules contributed by different teams.  I told her that I  
now understand why test pilots are paid so much money.

The point is this, high tech manufacturing already operates in the  
domain where no one individual, or even group of individuals  
understands the totality of the software systems they have built to  
make airplanes, chips, etc.  Yet these software systems are at the  
very heart of ever more sophisticated machines (although certainly  
vastly less sophisticated than the brain).  In Physics, it has been  
said that Gottried Leibniz (1646-1716) was the last human who knew  
everything.  So why in neuroscience is "communicability" a factor used  
to argue for abstract models, or levels of description that ignore  
neurons.   What happens if using GENESIS or NEURON or both with middle  
ware like NeuroConstruct, we collectively contribute to building a  
virtual representation of the real brain - that any one of us can use  
to poke around in something we find interesting.  Perhaps (although as  
I have said I doubt it), some Newton of the present or future might be  
able to come up with more general principles that apply to the  
structure or function of brain regions - or brains themselves -- but  
to start this process with a mandate for general principles to begin  
with - makes no sense to me.

One other point -- the philosopher Daniel Dennett suggested when  
considering the view of consciousness advocated by Koch and Crick,  
that there was, in fact, a hidden duelism in their approach.  I would  
say that duelism in fact isn't very hidden at all in most theories of  
cognitive neuroscience and must be suspected in any approach that  
assumes that the physical stuff of the brain doesn't matter, or can be  

Jim Bower

On Aug 13, 2008, at 9:05 AM, Brad Wyble wrote:

> On Tue, Aug 12, 2008 at 12:55 PM, Ali Minai <minai_ali at yahoo.com>  
> wrote:
> When we go looking for the "meaning" of attractors, or - even more  
> problematically - identity of meaning across attractors, aren't we  
> back to the homunculus or dualism? Shouldn't all "meaning"  
> ultimately be grounded in physiological response (sensor activity,  
> behavior, autonomic activity, biochemical activity, etc.) and all  
> else regarded as post-hoc constructs that we use for descriptive  
> convenience? Or do people think that "appleness" exists  
> independently of "applehood" - if you know what I mean? :-).
> Ali
> Behaviorism reborn?
> Remember that we are trying to describe these systems in terms that  
> we as humans can understand.  So that 'descriptive convenience' is  
> really what science is looking for.    We are not cognitively  
> equipped to understand the brain in terms of input/output  
> relationships, or big tables of neurophysiological data.   The  
> Tyranny of ideas exists precisely because we think with ideas.
> I suspect that an ultimate understanding of the brain is going to  
> consist of a hierarchy of ideas about how individual subsystems work  
> because that's how scientists communicate across levels of  
> description.
> Models are important both for shaping those ideas and anchoring them  
> formally, but ultimately the scientific process depends on the  
> communication of theories from one mind to another.
>  -Brad
> _______________________________________________
> Comp-neuro mailing list
> Comp-neuro at neuroinf.org
> http://www.neuroinf.org/mailman/listinfo/comp-neuro


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

Main Number:  210- 567-8100
Fax: 210 567-8152
Mobile:  210-382-0553

The contents of this email and any attachments to it may be privileged  
contain privileged and confidential information. This information is  
for the viewing or use of the intended recipient. If you have received  
e-mail in error or are not the intended recipient, you are hereby  
that any disclosure, copying, distribution or use of, or the taking of  
action in reliance upon, any of the information contained in this e- 
mail, or
any of the attachments to this e-mail, is strictly prohibited and that  
e-mail and all of the attachments to this e-mail, if any, must be
immediately returned to the sender or destroyed and, in either case,  
e-mail and all attachments to this e-mail must be immediately deleted  
your computer without making any copies hereof and any and all hard  
made must be destroyed. If you have received this e-mail in error,  
notify the sender by e-mail immediately.

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: http://www.neuroinf.org/pipermail/comp-neuro/attachments/20080813/0220e6de/attachment.html

More information about the Comp-neuro mailing list