[Comp-neuro] Discussion -- time to get back to work :-)

Klaus M. Stiefel stiefel at salk.edu
Wed Aug 27 05:08:08 CEST 2008

Dear All,

I hope this discussion is not officially over yet, as I'd like to remark
on one point.

As I understand Kuhn, biology is clearly *not* a pre-paradigmatic
science. One criticism of Kuhn was allways that he uses "paradigm" and
"paradigm change" in a number of different meanings. Nevertheless, I
don't think he would call present day biology or neuroscience
pre-paradigmatic. What he meant by that is a disagreement about the
basic explainanda - what is it we are dealing with when trying to find
an explanation for the phenomena we are interrested in.

The question if there is a "vis vitalis" or not, now long resolved, was
a pre-paradigmatic question in biology. In contrast, now we are well
aware that the explainations we seek have to do with biochemistry,
biological macromolecules, cells, organs, organisms, and their dynamics.
All neuroscientists agree that we will have to investigate neurons and
brains. We are asking how exactly neurons contribute to behavior, not if
the brain is the body's cooling organ or coordination center (that would
be pre-paradigmatic).

A complex problem will necessitate a variety of methods. Some
disagreement about what kinds of methods to use can be a motor of
scientific innovation but is not necessarily a sign of a
pre-paradigmatic science. So I am sure that there are lots of
fascinating challenges ahead biology, but to make it a paradigmatic
science is not one of them IMO.


Klaus Stiefel

james bower wrote:
> Thanks all for your willingness to tolerate / participate in this free
> wheeling discussion.
> It has been very useful for me - as I have already indicated, I am
> writing a book around these issues titled:
> "What would happen if a graduate student reads this?"
> Which, like the pithy quotes at the start of each chapter, was a plea
> made to a journal editor (actually the Journal of Computational
> Neuroscience ironically enough ;-) )l by an anonymous peer reviewer
> (who will remain nameless), after all other excuses to hold back the
> publication of one of our papers had been overcome.
> I would close with one final comment. Not meaning to sound completely
> Kuhn focused, one of the points he makes about pre-paradigmatic
> science, which is what I believe biology to be, is that there is a
> lack of consensus in the field regarding the methods that are most
> appropriate at a particular point in time to best advance the field.
> In fact, until a field coalesces into a science, there is a strong
> tendency to tolerate a broad range of approaches -- avoiding any
> explicit conflict between them. In this discussion I have resisted the
> urge to simply say - "yes, to each their own, all approaches are
> useful, lets figure out how to work together, each to make their own
> contribution". The history of science has clearly shown that, while
> humans might naturally tend to reduce conflict by adopting this point
> of view, in fact, at particular points in time, some approaches are
> more useful than others. The same history has also shown that
> scientific revolutions seldom if ever come from the middle of the pack
> or even from compromise.
> That said, I have a great deal of respect for many of my colleagues
> with approaches different from mine and wish them well. We won't know
> the answers to many of the questions raised here, probably, for a
> number of generations -- but, in my view, it is important that
> especially the new generation of scientists interested in this field
> recognize the depth of our ignorance, and the challenges they will
> face in moving our understanding of the brain forward. This field
> represents a great opportunity - if one can avoid the sins of ones
> fathers (and mothers), the principle sins probably being arrogance, a
> failure to imagine exactly how complex the problem is, and, in my
> view, a lack of appropriate respect for the magnificence of the brain
> itself - ironically enough.
> Thanks again,
> Jim Bower
> ==================================
> 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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