30th Boulder Conference on the History and Philosophy of Science
Topic: Neurons, Mechanisms, and the Mind: The History and Philosophy of Cognitive Neuroscience
University of Colorado at Boulder
October 10-12, 2014
Description: Our developing understanding of the mind depends extensively on neural data collected by fMRI, EEG, and PET, among other methods, and by the analysis of the data so collected, by, for example, decoding applications of machine learning algorithms. The prominence of cognitive neuroscience among the cognitive sciences and the widespread reporting in the popular press of (interpretations of) its results stand as testaments to the power and intrigue associated with this neurally oriented approach. This conference will focus on substantive theoretical questions that arise in connection with the flourishing field of cognitive neuroscience. These might include questions about the data-collection methodologies themselves, about ways of analyzing or modeling the data collected, about relations between the so-called personal and subpersonal levels (or conscious and subconscious levels), and about the localization of cognitive functions. They might also include questions about the history and meaning of the cognitive neuroscience "revolution" and about the bearing of its results on issues of historical importance in the humanities (what is the self?), on issues in neuroethics (are we morally responsible for our subconscious thought processes?), and on issues in history and philosophy of science more broadly construed (does cognitive neuroscience discover psychological laws?).
William Bechtel, UC San Diego
Carrie Figdor, Iowa
Tor Wager, CU Boulder
Program for Neurons, Mechanisms, and the Mind: The History and Philosophy of Cognitive Neuroscience, the 30th Annual Boulder Conference on the History and Philosophy of Science
Friday, Oct. 10: All talks in Duane Physics, G125
Keynote: William Bechtel (UC-San Diego)
"Networks and Dynamics: 21st Century Neuroscience"
Abstract: By identifying brain regions and cognitive activities in which they are involved, 20th century neuroscience provided a foundation, but only a foundation, for a mechanistic understanding of the brain. A far harder task, as anyone who has taken something apart knows, is putting it back together. This requires understanding the organization of the mechanism and ultimately how the operations of the parts are orchestrated by dynamic processes within the mechanism as it engages in activities in its environment (which is itself changing). This talk will focus on how 21st century neuroscience is pursuing research strategies aimed at figuring out the network organization and the dynamic behavior of the brain.
Reception in Gamow Tower, heavy hors d'oeuvres
Saturday, Oct. 11: All talks in Duane Physics, G131
9:00-9:50 David Danks (Carnegie Mellon U.)
"The Timescale Mismatch Challenge in Neuroimaging"
Abstract: This talk explores the problem of timescale mismatch: challenges for learning the brain's causal/connectivity structure because our neuroimaging measurements are at a different timescale than the underlying brain activity. I first argue that significant problems arise, at least in theory, when there is such a mismatch. Problems in theory need not manifest in problems in practice, and so I present an analysis of empirical data from two different neuroimaging modalities and show that these data imply dramatically different connectivity structures. I conclude by presenting some initial steps--illuminating theorems, informative examples, and a partial algorithm--for solving the timescale mismatch challenge.
10:00-10:50 Cat McDonald-Wade (U. of Edinburgh)
"'Expert Sexists': Unjust Perception and the Prediction Error Minimisation Account of Mind"
Abstract: This talk considers recent developments in probabilistic accounts of mind, namely those that see the brain as a prediction error minimizer. I consider the ways in which the existing literature on perceptual expertise pertains to this model of mind before proposing the existence of 'expert sexists' who experience 'unjust perception' that reflects their sexist expectations. A consideration of how the prediction error minimization account of mind (PEMAM) is able to account for such expert sexists reveals that it may be lacking in its understanding of situated agents. The account is thus augmented with the notion of 'corroboration' (interaction between agents and societal structures). This modified version of PEMAM is then used to describe how society might embark on eradicating unjust perception and sexism more generally.
11:00-11:50 Joseph McCaffrey (U. of Pittsburgh)
"A Mechanistic Approach to Multi-Functional Brain Areas"
Abstract: Multi-functionality poses significant challenges for structure-function mapping in cognitive neuroscience. Cathy Price and Karl Friston claim that brain areas typically have many functions at one level of description and one function at another. Therefore, researchers need to develop new "cognitive ontologies" to capture these common functions. Colin Klein draws a different lesson from the same findings: researchers should map traditional cognitive functions onto the brain in a "context-sensitive" fashion. In this essay, I claim that neither account is likely to succeed as a general treatment of multi-functionality. I argue that both accounts rely on a "uniformity assumption," which states that brain areas are multi-functional in a canonical way. Drawing on the notion of a "functional role" in the philosophical literature, I contend that this assumption is mistaken-it is plausible that brain areas, like other mechanistic components, are multi-functional in a variety of scientifically interesting respects. I call this the "Functional Heterogeneity Hypothesis."
2:00-2:50 Lena Kästner (Humboldt U., Berlin)
"The Power of Non-Interventions"
Abstract: Recently, philosophers of science have focused on interventions in the context of scientific explanations. The basic idea behind interventions is that we can wiggle something to see what else will wiggle along. However, not all of the manipulations scientists employ qualify as interventions in this sense. Considering different examples from scientific practice, I will illustrate the limits of intervention-based research and the vital role that non-interventionist manipulations play in scientific practice. Recognizing the power of these different research strategies will give us a better understanding of how scientists explain phenomena.
3:00-3:50 Marco Nathan (U. of Denver)
"Associative Bridge Laws: Reverse Inference and the Neuroimaging of Higher Cognition"
Abstract: Recent advancements in the brain sciences have enabled researchers to determine, with increasing accuracy, patterns and locations of neural activation associated with various psychological functions. These techniques have revived a longstanding debate regarding the relation between the mind and the brain: while many authors now claim that neuroscientific data can be used to advance our theories of higher cognition, others defend the so-called 'autonomy' of psychology. In this paper, we argue that this tension between dominant scientific theory and extant scientific practice stems from the failure to distinguish between different types of bridge laws. On the one hand, theorists have generally been concerned with reductive laws which, despite recent amendments, remain problematic. On the other hand, most bridge laws currently employed in cognitive neuroscience are not reductive; rather, they are associative statements that are categorically distinct from the contingent type-identities typically employed in reductive approaches. Despite their widespread use in the neuroscience of higher cognition, associative laws have seldom -- if ever -- been systematically
4:00-4:50 Paul Sheldon Davies (William and Mary U.)
"Giving Reasons for What We Do: The Role of Primary Process Affect in Cognitive Neuroscience"
Abstract: I wish to explore the implications of discoveries in affective neuroscience for a model of conscious awareness in cognitive neuroscience -- i.e., the implications ofprimary-process affect systems discovered by Jaak Panksepp for the global neuronal workspace model of consciousness developed by Stanislas Dehaene, especially with regard to our alleged capacity to give reasons for our actions.
The main exploratory work concerns actual cases in which affective experiences seem to involve little or no conceptual activity (e.g., cases of children with severe anencephaly who, if raised in a nurturing home, appear to experience identifiable emotions.) These cases suggest that, even in persons with fully developed brains, there exist affective processes that cannot rise to conscious awareness -- that cannot figure in the reasons we give for our actions -- but that causally affect our decisions and actions.
5:00-6:30 Keynote: Carrie Figdor (U. of Iowa)
"On the Proper Domain of Psychological Predicates"
Abstract: Do neurons prefer? Do plants decide? Do bacteria communicate linguistically? Such questions arise because biologists regularly use psychological predicates to describe the capacities of these and other entities. Because these uses appear in serious scientific contexts, they force us to question the assumption that human manifestations of psychological capacities establish the norm for their possession. I think this assumption is false, and that these non-standard ascriptions are literal. If I am right, biology can contribute to our understanding of the nature of psychological capacities, and neuroscientists seeking to identify levels of brain structure and function between cellular operations and organism behavior are free to construct mesoscale theories and models as they see fit.
Sunday, Oct. 12: All talks in Duane Physics, G125
9:00-9:50 Sarah Robins (U. of Kansas)
"Constructive Memory and Neural Mechanisms"
Abstract: According to the Constructive View of Memory, remembering is a process of constructing representations at the moment of recall. Explaining memory, they argue, no longer requires appeal to memory traces (representations of particular past events). In this paper, I argue that the Constructive, as currently characterized, is incompatible with investigations into the neural mechanisms underlying memory errors. Without recourse to memory traces, the Constructivist cannot distinguish memory from other inferential processes and between various types of memory error. I use discussion of challenges to motive and advocate for a revised version of the view, which I call the Constructive Trace Theory. As I argue, explaining remembering -- and the various forms of memory error -- requires attention to both memory traces and the constructive process of retrieval.
10:00-10:50 Cameron Buckner (U. of Houston)
"Functional Kinds: A Skeptical Look"
Abstract: The functional approach to kinds has suffered recently due to its association with law-based approaches to induction and explanation. Philosophers of science increasingly view nomological approaches as inappropriate for the special sciences like psychology and neuroscience. But can the functionalist approach to kinds be weaned off its dependency on laws? Dan Weiskopf has recently offered a reboot of the functionalist program by trading its nomological commitments for a model-based approach more closely derived from explanatory practices of psychology and neuroscience. I here explore some of the novel challenges facing this new functionalism about kinds, focusing ecumenically on their counterfactual explanatory power.
11:00-11:50 Valentina Petrolini (U. of Cincinnati)
"Neither Brainless nor Mindless: Towards an Interactionist View in Philosophy of Psychiatry"
Abstract: Most recent debates in philosophy of psychiatry stem from opposing views about the status of the discipline and advocate different approaches towards the understanding of mental disorders. The goal of this paper is to outline an interactionist view and to show that such an account fares better than the reductionist and anti-reductionist alternatives. The paper is divided in three sections: in the first I raise some issues with reductionist and anti-reductionist approaches, articulating the need for an alternative proposal. In the second I individuate three desiderata for an interactionist view; in the third I briefly discuss the implications that my proposal may have on psychiatric practice.
2:00-2:50 Jorge Morales (Columbia U.)
"Controlling for Performance Capacity Confounds in Neuroimaging Studies of Conscious Awareness"
Abstract: Studying the neural correlates of awareness depends on a reliable comparison between activations associated with awareness and unawareness. Task performance capacity is a problematic confound because it is hard to match performance experimentally across conditions. A recently proposed method aims to correct mathematically for performance capacity confound (Lamy, Salti, & Bar-Haim, 2009). This method has limitations because it is grounded in an often-rejected version of High Threshold Theory (implicitly assumed in many neuroimaging studies). An alternative correction method based on Signal Detection Theory is offered along a discussion of the limitations of this kind of mathematical corrections and its impact for empirical and philosophical theories about consciousness.
3:00-3:50 Jaclyn Lanthier (U. of Western Ontario)
"Structure-Function Claims and How Functional Triangulation Works to Put Them on Firmer Epistemic Ground in Cognitive Neuroscience"
Abstract: In this paper I consider Adina Roskies' notion of functional triangulation and the ways in which it boosts the ability to put structure-function claims on firmer epistemic footing. Using Eichenbaum's 'Memory on Time' (2012) as a paradigmatic case for how functional triangulation works in practice, I highlight two important consequences: first, that the lack of specificity with respect to convergence weakens Roskies' case. Secondly, if/once convergence-related issues are cleared up, I suggest that a stronger notion of functional triangulation would be one where its epistemic and methodological constraints are weakened or strengthened depending on the type (cognitive, clinical, psychiatric, etc.) and the goal of the lab (e.g. identifying an ischemic lesion versus identifying which part of the brain is responsible for emotional reasoning).
4:00-5:30 Keynote: Tor Wager (U. of Colorado at Boulder)
Topic: Role of verbal reports in studies on emotion and pain
The Committee for the History and Philosophy of Science is co-sponsored by the departments of Anthropology, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Geological Sciences, History, Mathematics, Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, Philosophy, Physics, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the Center for Humanities and the Arts.
If you have questions about the conference, please contact RCHPS@colorado.edu.