From Reactive to Endogenously Active Dynamical Conceptions of the Brain

Abstract
We contrast reactive and endogenously active perspectives on brain activity. Both have been pursued continuously in neurophysiology laboratories since the early 20thcentury, but the endogenous perspective has received relatively little attention until recently. One of the many successes of the reactive perspective was the identification, in the second half of the 20th century, of the distinctive contributions of different brain regions involved in visual processing. The recent prominence of the endogenous perspective is due to new findings of ongoing oscillatory activity in the brain at a wide range of time scales, exploiting such techniques as single-cell recording, EEG, and fMRI. We recount some of the evidence pointing to ways in which this endogenous activity is relevant to cognition and behavior. Our major objective is to consider certain implications of the contrast between the reactive and endogenous perspectives. In particular, we relate these perspectives to two different characterizations of explanation in the new mechanistic philosophy of science. In a basic mechanistic explanation, the operations of a mechanism are characterized qualitatively and as functioning sequentially until a terminating condition is realized. In contrast, a dynamic mechanistic explanation allows for non-sequential organization and emphasizes quantitative modeling of the mechanisms's behavior. For example, with appropriate parameter values a set of differential equations can be used to demonstrate ongoing oscillations in a system organized with feedback loops. We conclude that the basic conception of mechanistic explanation is adequate for reactive accounts of brain activity, but dynamical accounts are required to explain sustained, endogenous activity
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