[Comp-neuro] Discussion - Kuhn - and brief comments

james bower bower at uthscsa.edu
Wed Aug 27 18:04:55 CEST 2008

A few brief comments -- given that school has started, and I now have  
to prepare to "influence" the latest next generation.

First a BIG POINT:

Klaus Stiefel:  pre-paradigmatic " What he meant by that is a  
disagreement about the basic explainanda"

No, Kuhn was focused on process to quote:  "the early developmental  
stages of most sciences (are) characterized by continual competition  
between a number of distinct views of nature, each partially derived  
from, and all roughly compatible with, the dictates of scientific  
observation and method,  (In pre-paradigmatic science) what  
differentiates these various schools (is) not one or another failure  
of method - they are all "scientific" - but what we shall come to call  
their incommensurable ways of seeing the world and practicing science  
within it"  (pg 4 The Structure of Scientific Revolution.)   If this  
discussion over the last two months doesn't make it clear that, as a  
field, we currently have "incommensurate ways of seeing the world and  
practicing science within it"  I don't know what does.  Kuhn goes on  
to say:  "Men (sic) whose research is based on shared paradigms are  
committed to the same rules and standards for scientific practice."   
Again, this discussion makes it pretty clear to me that we have not  
yet reached that point. In fact,  (and I would say reflecting this  
fact) the kind of discussion we have been having here seldom ever  
happens as we are content (and being pre-paradigmatic can get away  
with) agreeing to not discuss what we don't agree on, another  
characteristic of pre-paradigmatic science -- and the reason I don't  
mind starting these discussions.

Bryan Bishop:  "There's a few too many layers of folk psychology here,"

I agree, and have characterized all of biology as fundamentally  
folkloric in nature -- based on story telling, with few real  
definitions of anything.  Something comp bio (neuro) will, I hope,  
eventually fix.

And on to the approaches we don't agree on:

Bryan Bishop:  "I bet it  becomes clear that trying to do "natural  
language processing" from statistical inferences doesn't get us as  
much hard science as the brain could provide."

Of course, I agree -- and also agree that this field continues to be  
distorted by what is essential snake oil we sell to the Department of  
Defense about how studying the brain will help win wars.  This rather  
self serving commitment to "neuro-morphic engineering" as it is now  
called, has been distorting our science for a while.  In the last 8  
years even more dramatically.

Mario Negrello:  "I'd say instead that some approaches gather more  
acolytes, and then overflow others in sheer voluminous quantity,"

Unfortunately, as just noted, very often related to who you are  
selling the science to (funders) and also, unfortunately, how 'easy'  
the methods are and therefore how many can jump on the bandwagon  
without much preparation (or even knowledge of the brain in this  
case)   -- 20 years studying the realistic model of the Purkinje cell  
and counting.

Bard Ermentrout:  " I suspect that it would be too hard to adjust  
parameters for realistic models "

Is hard bad?  Or is the brain, in fact, hard?

Igor Carron: "The groundwork of theory as you put it has, in nuclear  
technology, always been a way to acquire and use experimental findings."

And this, in fact, is the value of theory -- not to capture 'truth' as  
many in comp neuro seem be believe, but to organize experimental  
studies -- the more the theory is removed from the actual structure of  
the brain - the more it exists by itself, disconnected from the  
ability to improve, or more importantly to refute it.

Asim Roy:  "a "blank slate" simply implies a network whose connection  
weights and other parameters have not been set yet -"

And, no such thing in biology, where development doesn't end and  
learning begins - it is continuous, and development probably  
recapitulating evolutionary history.  Another reason why the  
mainstream ANN models make no sense.

Asim Roy: "Is there a way in computational neuroscience to verify any  
of these theories of learning? "

Wrong question.

Axel Hutt:  " can (neuro)biology really treat a population of some  
thousand elements ? "

We will need to figure out how - numerous groups are working on it.

Anibalmastobiza:  "cerebellum, usually considered as a center for  
motor processing and coordination just  as it was for the basal  
ganglia that now we know that is also involve in cognition"

While I appreciate the support, I have another question for cognitive  
neuroscientists, how come anything that lights up in a brain scan  
becomes a "cognitive center"  seems weird to me.



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
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