[Neuroscience] Re: Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience

Glen M. Sizemore via neur-sci%40net.bio.net (by gmsizemore2 At yahoo.com)
Sun Nov 19 18:05:22 EST 2006

> http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3814/is_200004/ai_n8878457
> You are right, and this paper lays out, very nicely, why.

>From that paper (last paragraph):

If our diagnosis is correct, then it follows that the harmony of the
triangle must be restored before the problems can be solved. Conceptual
investigations in particular must be promoted. But for that to happen
we need to know first what accounts for psychology's excessive
preference for factual investigations. This issue will be addressed in
the second part of the essay. To anticipate our conclusion, we identify
two fundamental reasons for psychologists' preference for factual
investigations: (a) their overconfidence on the scientific method as a
means of finding, almost mechanically, empirical truths and (b) their
long-held suspicion of philosophical speculation."
I concur. My main interest, or was, neuroimmunology. What I found
particularly frustrating was that there is a welter of research out
there, a great deal of replication, a great deal of "isolate this one
variable and see what happens". In biology in general I think this is a
dangerous approach because a "variable" in biology is a typically
"variable variable". ie. The variable itself is not constant in its

GS: Glass and Mackey (1988) once complained that physiologists tend not to 
take the tools of dynamic systems theory into consideration when engaged in 
theory construction. This is, of course, becoming less true, but it is 
extremely important that scientists, in a variety of fields, distinguish 
exogenous and endogenous variables. We may establish phenomenological "laws" 
simply by manipulating exogenous variables, but a thorough understanding 
depends on mathematical hypothesis testing involving the dynamical system, 
comprised of endogenous variables as imbedded in the exogenous variables. 
Many sciences do this, but the formalism determining what they say is 
frequently simply their native language; "Well, we know that this 
[endogenous] variable certainly exerts an effect at the extremes, but within 
the range we used yada yada yada," and they are probably accurate a large 
part of the time. But an English narrative is no substitute for a 
mathematical treatment of an experimental science.

JH: We dig ourselves into a deep hole because we keep gathering
"facts" as if in some positivistic frame of reference we simply gather
enough facts and the truth will become clear. Yet a fact is mostly
useless unless it is embedded within some context. What tends to happen
is the context is assumed, not pondered upon, not examined.

To put the matter more bluntly:

It may be the case that scientists hate being wrong. It is relatively
easy to gather facts but to venture forth with speculations guarantees
error. It is often said that the key to discovery is not to just
accumulate facts but to know which facts to pay attention to. We have
mountains of facts but everyone is afraid to speculate. Speculation is
where science starts. In any event, I don't believe in the scientific
method as the sole way to truth, it is simply one tool at our disposal.
Strictly speaking the scientific method can teach us nothing. From this
perspective the ongoing gathering of "facts" as these are currently
conceived of in cog neuroscience is doing us more harm than good. (Part
of this problem is psychological. To spend days, if not weeks, months,
or years, pondering upon a particular problem typically produces little
evidence of work. If you're an academic that's very dangerous. Goodbye

GS: Yes, this is a problem. And I agree somewhat with the "amount" of your 
malice. Let us keep in mind, though, that the problem addressed by Machado 
(et al)is an imbalance in the Epistemic Triangle (I love that); facts are 
not "inherently" bad.

JH: Hence, from that paper again:

"But if unchecked by theoretical and conceptual investigations, facts
are blind, disorganized, and even meaningless. They multiply, "range
widely, yet move little further forward" (Bacon, 1994, Book 1, Aphorism
70). Scientific communities must therefore strive to balance the
various kinds of investigations, lest the growth of their science
proceed in unprofitable directions. "

GS: Rightio.

JH: --

I am a great believer in disciplined intuition, which has bugger all to
do with logic or the scientific method. The scientific method is not
the way to truth it is the way to confirm our speculations about the
truth. Even that is insufficient.

GS: Hold on! It (intuition) has nothing to do with ONE particular - 
particularly worthless - description of science! Science thrives on 
affirming the consequent. Think about it.

I'm going to truncate this here - I'm pleased with the points I made so far.



"John H." <j_hasenkam At yahoo.com.au> wrote in message 
news:1163748860.992583.322470 At m7g2000cwm.googlegroups.com...
>> GS:

More information about the Neur-sci mailing list

Send comments to us at biosci-help [At] net.bio.net