[Comp-neuro] computational and theoretical neuroscience

Laurent Perrinet laurent.perrinet at incm.cnrs-mrs.fr
Fri Apr 1 11:48:34 CEST 2011

Dear list

A recent paper in PLoS Computational Biology

> The Roots of Bioinformatics in Theoretical Biology
> Paulien Hogeweg
> Volume 7(3) March 2011 http://www.ploscompbiol.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pcbi.1002021

makes a point in the evolution of the meaning of the field of bioinformatics with the advent of data-driven modeling. 

The same seems to have appeared in computational neuroscience. The sense slowly drifted from the original papers (such as Science, Vol. 241, No. 4871, 1988, pp. 1299-1306. by T. J. Sejnowski, C. Koch, P. S. Churchland) which I believed is perfectly captured in the sentence: "The ultimate aim of computational neuroscience is to explain how electrical and chemical signals are used in the brain to represent and process information."  (this does not exclude using computers of course).

It seems to be solely a semantical problem, but this may generate some confusion (realpolitik translation: "and this may hinder the efficiency of your grant proposal"). Recently an (anonymous) colleague told me they called their group "computational AND theoretical neuroscience" (just as these two fields where separated) out of the lack of consensus on the meaning of words and to not exclude anyone. Nowadays, even in the university, there is a continuum of fields combining biology,  mathematics or computer science and all computational neuroscientists reflect this as individuals. so what's the situation in 2011?

I often asked to fellow colleagues this question, "what is computational neuroscience?" and often got one of these answers (I try to be unbiased - please correct me):

 [ ] it is a field of neuroscience involving the use of computers (von Neumann machines, Dell boxes, macbooks, ...) to simulate and analyze data obtained from experimental neuroscience and advance our knowledge from this dialogue. Theoretical neuroscience is different in the sense that it proposes mathematical models of how it works.

 [ ] it is the field of neuroscience studying how information is represented and processed in neural activity. This involves a dialogue with experimental neuroscience to analyze and propose experiments. It proposes models, that is theories for the relation between function and structure. Theoretical neuroscience is a subset of computational neuroscience that tries to express these models in standard mathematical language.

 [ ] it is some field of neuroscience and why would you care to give an exact definition? its frontiers are moving and it has many facets, theoretical neuroscience being just one example. it cares about being less ignorant on relation between function and structure in neuroscience.

If you want to express your opinion, you can so in one click:
results :


(what a lousy and serious message for april's fool day...)

Laurent Perrinet - INCM (UMR6193)/CNRS

More information about the Comp-neuro mailing list