We introduce a new model of reduction inspired by Kemeny and Oppenheim’s model [Kemeny & Oppenheim 1956] and argue that this model is operative in a “ruthlessly reductive” part of current neuroscience. Kemeny and Oppenheim’s model was quickly rejected in mid-20th-century philosophy of science and replaced by models developed by Ernest Nagel and Kenneth Schaffner [Nagel 1961], [Schaffner 1967]. We think that Kemeny and Oppenheim’s model was correctly rejected, given what a “theory of reduction” was supposed to account for at (...) that time. But their guiding insights about what constitutes scientific reduction—increases in explanatory scope and systematization—reflect actual practices of current reductionistic neuroscience. The key rehabilitative step to make their insights fit current scientific details is to restate them using resources from recent work on causal-mechanistic explanation. We begin with a scientific case study, drawn from the relatively new field of “molecular and cellular cognition”. It provides an explanation of the well-known Ebbinghaus spacing effect on learning and memory in terms of interactions between a transcriptional enhancer protein and its inhibiting phosphatase in neurons recruited into the memory trace. Next we briefly describe some popular models of reduction from mid-20th-century philosophy of science. We point out how these models fail to illuminate key features of our scientific case study. Finally we present our causal-mechanistically updated Kemeny and Oppenheim-inspired model and argue that it nicely accounts for the details of our scientific case study. We close with a remark that will hopefully undercut the surprise many may feel to learn that a long-rejected philosophical account of reduction actually is at work in one of the most prominent reductionistic endeavors in current science. (shrink)
The previous decade has seen renewed critical interest in the multiple realization argument. These criticisms constitute a "second wave" of challenges to this central argument in late-20th century philosophy of mind. Unlike the first wave, which challenged the premise that multiple realization is inconsistent with reduction or type identity, this second wave challenges the truth of the multiple realization premise itself. Since psychoneural reductionism was prominent among the explicit targets of the multiple realization argument, one might think that this second (...) wave of challenges provides important aid and comfort to reductionists. In this paper, however, I provide reasons for thinking it does not. This is not to the detriment of psychoneural reductionism because, as I also argue here, and unrecognized by the current non-reductive orthodoxy in philosophy of mind, one key argument among the first wave of criticisms of the multiple realization argument has never been adequately rejoined. (shrink)
We briefly describe ways in which neuroeconomics has made contributions to its contributing disciplines, especially neuroscience, and a specific way in which it could make future contributions to both. The contributions of a scientific research programme can be categorized in terms of (1) description and classification of phenomena, (2) the discovery of causal relationships among those phenomena, and (3) the development of tools to facilitate (1) and (2). We consider ways in which neuroeconomics has advanced neuroscience and economics along each (...) line. Then, focusing on electrophysiological methods, we consider a puzzle within neuroeconomics whose solution we believe could facilitate contributions to both neuroscience and economics, in line with category (2). This puzzle concerns how the brain assigns reward values to otherwise incomparable stimuli. According to the common currency hypothesis, dopamine release is a component of a neural mechanism that solves comparability problems. We review two versions of the common currency hypothesis, one proposed by Read Montague and colleagues, the other by William Newsome and colleagues, and fit these hypotheses into considerations of rational choice. (shrink)
As opposed to the dismissive attitude toward reductionism that is popular in current philosophy of mind, a “ruthless reductionism” is alive and thriving in “molecular and cellular cognition”—a field of research within cellular and molecular neuroscience, the current mainstream of the discipline. Basic experimental practices and emerging results from this field imply that two common assertions by philosophers and cognitive scientists are false: (1) that we do not know much about how the brain works, and (2) that lower-level neuroscience cannot (...) explain cognition and complex behavior directly. These experimental practices involve intervening directly with molecular components of sub-cellular and gene expression pathways in neurons and then measuring specific behaviors. These behaviors are tracked using tests that are widely accepted by experimental psychologists to study the psychological phenomenon at issue (e.g., memory, attention, and perception). Here I illustrate these practices and their importance for explanation and reduction in current mainstream neuroscience by describing recent work on social recognition memory in mammals. (shrink)
Over the past three decades, philosophy of science has grown increasingly “local.” Concerns have switched from general features of scientific practice to concepts, issues, and puzzles specific to particular disciplines. Philosophy of neuroscience is a natural result. This emerging area was also spurred by remarkable recent growth in the neurosciences. Cognitive and computational neuroscience continues to encroach upon issues traditionally addressed within the humanities, including the nature of consciousness, action, knowledge, and normativity. Empirical discoveries about brain structure and function suggest (...) ways that “naturalistic” programs might develop in detail, beyond the abstract philosophical considerations in their favor. -/- The literature distinguishes “philosophy of neuroscience” and “neurophilosophy.” The former concerns foundational issues within the neurosciences. The latter concerns application of neuroscientific concepts to traditional philosophical questions. Exploring various concepts of representation employed in neuroscientific theories is an example of the former. Examining implications of neurological syndromes for the concept of a unified self is an example of the latter. In this entry, we will assume this distinction and discuss examples of both. (shrink)
In their review essay (published in this issue), Looren de Jong and Schouten take my 2003 book to task for (among other things) neglecting to keep up with the latest developments in my favorite scientific case study (memory consolidation). They claim that these developments have been guided by psychological theorizing and have replaced neurobiology's traditional 'static' view of consolidation with a 'dynamic' alternative. This shows that my 'essential but entirely heuristic' treatment of higher-level cognitive theorizing is a mistaken view of (...) actual scientific practice. In response I contend that, on the contrary, a closer look at the memory reconsolidation following reactivation experiments and data suggests (1) a less revolutionary judgment about the proposed alternative, and (2) a now-complete reliance on ruthlessly reductive experimental methods from cellular and molecular neuroscience. These conclusions save the heuristic status I propose for higher-level investigations of behavior and brain. I close with a brief comment on their further charge that I 'sell out' philosophy of science to factual developments in science itself. (shrink)
This book precis describes the motives behind my recent attempt to bring to bear “ruthlessly reductive” results from cellular and molecular neuroscience onto issues in the philosophy of mind. Since readers of this journal will probably be most interested in results addressing features of conscious experience, I highlight these most prominently. My main challenge is that philosophers (even scientifically-inspired ones) are missing the nature and scope of reductionism in contemporary neuroscience by focusing exclusively on higher-level cognitive neuroscience, and ignoring the (...) discipline's cell-physiological and molecular-biological core. (shrink)
I reply to challenges raised by contributors to this book symposium. Key challenges include (but are not limited to): distancing my new account of reductionism-in-practice from my previous “new wave” account; clarifying my claimed “heuristic” status for higher-level investigations (including cognitive-neuroscientific ones); defending the “reorientation of philosophical desires” I claim to be required by my project; and addressing consideration about normativity.
The structuralist program has developed a useful metascientific resource: ontological reductive links (ORLs) between the constituents of the potential models of reduced and reducing theories. This resource was developed initially to overcome an objection to structuralist ``global'' accounts of the intertheoretic reduction relation. But it also illuminates the way that concepts at a higher level of scientific investigation (e.g., cognitive psychology) become ``structured through reduction'' to lower-level investigations (e.g., cellular/molecular neuroscience). After (briefly) explaining this structuralist background, I demonstrate how this (...) resource illuminates an actual, emerging scientific example: the link between the psychological concept of a ``consolidation switch'' from short-term to long-term memory and the cellular/molecular mechanisms of the transition from early- to late-phases of long-term potentiation (LTP) (an important type of synaptic plasticity in mammalian hippocampus and cortex). (shrink)
Psychoneural reduction is under attack again, only this time from a former ally: cognitive neuroscience. It has become popular to think of the brain as a complex system whose theoretically important properties emerge from dynamic, non-linear interactions between its component parts. ``Emergence'' is supposed to replace reduction: the latter is thought to be incapable of explaining the brain qua complex system. Rather than engage this issue at the level of theories of reduction versus theories of emergence, I here emphasize a (...) role that reductionism plays – and will continue to play – even if neuroscience adopts this ``complex systems'' view. In detailed investigations into the function of complex neural circuits, certain questions can only be addressed by moving down levels and scales. This role for reduction also finds a place for approaches that dominate mainstream neuroscience, like the widespread use of experimental techniques and theories from molecular biology and biochemistry. These are difficult to reconcile with the anti-reductionist sentiments of the ``complex systems'' branch of cognitive neuroscience. (shrink)
Although great progress in neuroanatomy and physiology has occurred lately, we still cannot go directly to those levels to discover the neural mechanisms of higher cognition and consciousness. But we can use neurocomputational methods based on these details to push this project forward. Here we describe vector subtraction as an operation that computes sequential paths through high-dimensional vector spaces. Vector-space interpretations of network activity patterns are a fruitful resource in recent computational neuroscience. Vector subtraction also appears to be implemented neurally (...) in primate frontal eye field activity, which computes dimensions of saccadic eye movements. We use this apparent neural implementation as a model and construct from it a general neurocomputational account of an important type of sequential cognitive and conscious process. We defend the biological plausibility of all components of the general model and show that it yields testable anatomical and physiological predictions. We close by suggesting some interesting consequences for consciousness if our model characterizes correctly the neural mechanisms producing a common type of episode in our conscious streams. (shrink)
Philosophers and psychologists seeking an accessible introduction to current neuroscience will find much value in this volume. Befitting the neuroscientific focus on sensory processes, many essays address explicitly the binding problem. Theoretical and experimental work pertaining to the “temporal synchronicity” solution is prominent. But there are also some surprising implications for current philosophical concerns, such as the intemalism/extemalism debate about representational content, epistemological realism, a “bottom-up” approach to naturalizing intentionality, Humean concerns about the self, and implications from phantom-limb phenomena. Higher-level (...) theorists about the mind ignore results like these from current neuroscience at their own peril, at least from the point of view of discourse worthy of serious attention as the sciences of the mind/brain push forward into the 21st century. (shrink)
I sketch a theory of cognitive representation from recent "connectionist" cognitive science. I then argue that (i) this theory is reducible to neuroscientific theories, yet (ii) its kinds are multiply realized at a neurobiological level. This argument demonstrates that multiple realizability alone is no barrier to the reducibility of psychological theories. I conclude that the multiple realizability argument, the most influential argument against psychophysical reductionism, should be abandoned.
The need for representations and computations over their contents in psychological explanations is often cited as both the mark of the genuinely cognitive and a source of skepticism about the reducibility of cognitive theories to neuroscience. A generic version of this anti-reductionist argument is rejected in this paper as unsound, since (i) current thinking about associative learning emphasizes the need for cognitivist resources in theories adequate to explain even the simplest form of this phenomena (Pavlovian conditioning), and yet (ii) the (...) most widely accepted recent theory of associative learning, which utilizes cognitivist resources, has already been reduced to a purely neurophysiological account. Psychoneural reduction of genuinely cognitivist theories is thus already an accomplished scientific fact, despite pronouncements by anti-reductionists about its conceptual impossibility or empirical implausibility. In addition, the specific form of reduction involved in this case (“combinatorial” reduction) provides a promising model for further cognitivist-to-neuroscience theory reductions. (shrink)
Recently some philosophers have urged that connectionist artificial intelligence is (potentially) eliminative for the propositional attitudes of folk psychology. At the same time, however, these philosophers have also insisted that since philosophy of science has failed to provide criteria distinguishing ontologically retentive from eliminative theory changes, the resulting eliminativism is not principled. Application of some resources developed within the semantic view of scientific theories, particularly recent formal work on the theory reduction relation, reveals these philosophers to be wrong in this (...) second contention, yet by and large correct in the first. (shrink)
Davidson's principle of the anomalousness of the mental was instrumental in discrediting once-popular versions of mind-brain reductionism. In this essay I argue that a novel account of intertheoretic reduction, which does not require the sort of cross-theoretic bridge laws that Davidson's principle rules out, allows a version of mind-brain reductionism which is immune from Davidson's challenge. In the final section, I address a second worry about reductionism, also based on Davidson's principle, that survives this response. I argue that new reductionists (...) should revise some significant details of the program, particularly the conception of theories, to circumvent this more potent Davidson-inspired worry. (shrink)
The argument from multiple realizability is that, because quite diverse physical systems are capable of giving rise to identical psychological phenomena, mental states cannot be reduced to physical states. This influential argument depends upon a theory of reduction that has been defunct in the philosophy of science for at least fifteen years. Better theories are now available.
The focus of much recent debate between realists and eliminativists about the propositional attitudes obscures the fact that a spectrum of positions lies between these celebrated extremes. Appealing to an influential theoretical development in cognitive neurobiology, I argue that there is reason to expect such an “intermediate” outcome. The ontology that emerges is a revisionary physicalism. The argument draws lessons about revisionistic reductions from an important historical example, the reduction of equilibrium thermodynamics to statistical mechanics, and applies them to the (...) relationship developing between propositional attitude psychology and this potential neuroscientific successor. It predicts enough conceptual change to rule out a straightforward realism about the attitudes; but at the same time it also resists the eliminativist's comparison of the fate awaiting the propositional attitudes to that befalling caloric fluid, phlogiston, and the like. (shrink)