A contextualist approach to functional localization in the brain

Biology and Philosophy 31 (4):527-550 (2016)

Functional localization has historically been one of the primary goals of neuroscience. There is still debate, however, about whether it is possible, and if so what kind of theories succeed at localization. I argue for a contextualist approach to localization. Most theorists assume that widespread contextual variability in function is fundamentally incompatible with functional decomposition in the brain, because contextualist accounts will fail to be generalizable and projectable. I argue that this assumption is misplaced. A properly articulated contextualism can ground successful theories of localization even without positing completely generalizable accounts. Via a case study from perceptual neuroscience, I suggest that there is strong evidence for contextual variation in the function of perceptual brain areas. I then outline a version of contextualism that is empirically adequate with respect to this data, and claim that it can still distinguish brain areas from each other according to their functional properties. Finally, I claim that the view does not fail the norms for good theory in the way that anticontextualists suppose. It is true that, on a contextualist view, we will not have theories that are completely generalizable and predictive. We can, however, have successful partial generalizations that structure ongoing investigation and lead to novel functional insight, and this success is sufficient to ground the project of functional localization.
Keywords Absolutism  Contextualism  Explanation  Functional localization  Perceptual neuroscience
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DOI 10.1007/s10539-016-9526-2
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References found in this work BETA

Nonindexical Contextualism.John MacFarlane - 2009 - Synthese 166 (2):231-250.
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Can Cognitive Processes Be Inferred From Neuroimaging Data?Russell A. Poldrack - 2006 - Trends in Cognitive Sciences 10 (2):59-63.
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