Simulation experiments in bionics: A regulative methodological perspective

Biology and Philosophy 24 (3):301-324 (2009)
Abstract
Bionic technologies connecting biological nervous systems to computer or robotic devices for therapeutic purposes have been recently claimed to provide novel experimental tools for the investigation of biological mechanisms. This claim is examined here by means of a methodological analysis of bionics-supported experimental inquiries on adaptive sensory-motor behaviours. Two broad classes of bionic systems (regarded here as hybrid simulations of the target biological system) are identified, which differ from each other according to whether a component of the biological target system is replaced by an artificial component, or else a component of an artificial system is replaced by a biological component. The role of these hybrid systems in the modelling of adaptive sensory-motor biological behaviours is discussed with reference to bionics-supported experiments on the mechanisms of body stabilization in lampreys. Methodological problems emerging from these case studies often arise in computer-based and biorobotic simulations of biological behaviours too. Accordingly, the present analysis contributes to identifying a more general regulative methodological framework for the machine-based modelling of biological systems.
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