Causes without mechanisms: Experimental regularities, physical laws, and neuroscientific explanation

Philosophy of Science 75 (5):995-1007 (2008)
This article examines the role of experimental generalizations and physical laws in neuroscientific explanations, using Hodgkin and Huxley’s electrophysiological model from 1952 as a test case. I show that the fact that the model was partly fitted to experimental data did not affect its explanatory status, nor did the false mechanistic assumptions made by Hodgkin and Huxley. The model satisfies two important criteria of explanatory status: it contains invariant generalizations and it is modular (both in James Woodward’s sense). Further, I argue that there is a sense in which the explanatory heteronomy thesis holds true for this case. †To contact the author, please write to: SNF‐Professorship for Philosophy of Science, University of Basel, Missionsstrasse 21, 4003 Basel, Switzerland; e‐mail:
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DOI 10.1086/594541
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Alexander Reutlinger (2011). A Theory of Non-Universal Laws. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 25 (2):97 - 117.

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