View Full Version : Does Neuroscience need a Newton?


Amtram
05-29-13, 08:16 PM
I'm sorry I can't link you directly to this, but over at the Scientific American site on the blog "The Scicurious Brain," there's an article entitled (as above) "Does Neuroscience need a Newton?" about how reductionism hurts the understanding of neuroscience. Scicurious begins by referencing an article she read in The New Yorker about what she calls gee-whiz science getting it wrong:

The brain, though, rarely works that way. Most of the interesting things that the brain does involve many different pieces of tissue working together. Saying that emotion is in the amygdala, or that decision-making is the prefrontal cortex, is at best a shorthand, and a misleading one at that. Different emotions, for example, rely on different combinations of neural substrates. The act of comprehending a sentence likely involves Brocaís area (the language-related spot on the left side of the brain that they may have told you about in college), but it also draws on the parts of the brain in the temporal lobe that analyze acoustic signals, and part of sensorimotor cortex and the basal ganglia become active as well. (In congenitally blind people, some of the visual cortex also plays a role.) Itís not one spot, itís many, some of which may be less active but still vital, and what really matters is how vast networks of neural tissue work together.

She goes on to talk about how neuroscience is too complex to have a "Newton," who can boil everything down to simple, essential concepts. She concludes. . ."Our field is complex, and many thousands, or millions, of little truths will have to come together before we come to a complete picture of the brain. And for those millions of little truths, you will need a million little scientists."

Search for it and read it.

Fortune
05-29-13, 08:24 PM
Thank you. I should link this in places.

It surprises me when people want to take neurological research to mean something about establishing clear, distinct, categorical neurological differences, but whenever I've read such research and looked at the comparisons the comparison groups tend to have significant overlap because things really aren't that simple.

Amtram
05-29-13, 09:22 PM
This is why the NIH's new approach to research is going to result in a lot better quality information than the diagnosis-based model we've been using.

Fortune
05-29-13, 11:38 PM
Indeed.

dvdnvwls
05-29-13, 11:59 PM
I wonder whether the best answer to needing a Newton is "no, it can't work that way", or if it might be "not yet, not for a very long time, but in the distant future".

sarek
05-30-13, 02:57 AM
I completely agree with Amtram. We appear to be lacking some kind of meta-level understanding. We are looking at many small pictures and substructures but seem to be missing essential overall concepts.

Amtram
05-30-13, 08:32 AM
The problem, though, sarek, is that the nature of science in the first place is that each time we get an answer, it gives us dozens more new questions. With the human brain, that's even more the case because it's not a consistent, predictable model. Even if we come to a level of knowledge that is close to complete, it will not yield a unified theory because of biodiversity. Throw in the fact that human biodiversity is constantly increasing because of our physical mobility, and that ideal of complete understanding is sort of like Zeno's paradox.