Extending, changing, and explaining the brain

Biology and Philosophy 28 (4):613-638 (2013)
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This paper addresses concerns raised recently by Datteri (Biol Philos 24:301–324, 2009) and Craver (Philos Sci 77(5):840–851, 2010) about the use of brain-extending prosthetics in experimental neuroscience. Since the operation of the implant induces plastic changes in neural circuits, it is reasonable to worry that operational knowledge of the hybrid system will not be an accurate basis for generalisation when modelling the unextended brain. I argue, however, that Datteri’s no-plasticity constraint unwittingly rules out numerous experimental paradigms in behavioural and systems neuroscience which also elicit neural plasticity. Furthermore, I propose that Datteri and Craver’s arguments concerning the limitations of prosthetic modelling in basic neuroscience, as opposed to neuroengineering, rests on too narrow a view of the ways models in neuroscience should be evaluated, and that a more pluralist approach is needed. I distinguish organisational validity of models from mechanistic validity. I argue that while prosthetic models may be deficient in the latter of these explanatory virtues because of neuroplasticity, they excel in the former since organisational validity tracks the extent to which a model captures coding principles that are invariant with plasticity. Changing the brain, I conclude, is one viable route towards explaining the brain

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Mazviita Chirimuuta
University of Pittsburgh


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