Archive for April, 2013

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What is a Brain Area For? The Concept of “Function” in Cognitive Neuroscience

April 18, 2013

Joseph McCaffrey

Popular science abounds with claims that neuroscientists have uncovered the brain areas responsible for fear, social reasoning, romantic commitment, and numerous other aspects of human thought and emotion.  Neuroscientists frequently attribute cognitive functions (e.g., face recognition, motion detection, or analog representation of number) to particular regions of the brain.  However, several theorists have recently criticized these functional attributions because they fail to respect the diversity of cognitive tasks that recruit any brain region.  Furthermore, these theorists sometimes contend that our current taxonomies of brain functions do little more than project whatever view of the mind we already have (be it from psychology or folk psychology) onto the surface of the brain. These concerns may call for a revision of the notion of “brain function” in cognitive neuroscience. In this talk, I pose the question: What concepts of brain function are applicable to, and useful for, neuroimaging research?  My talk will mainly explore the landscape of a conceptual problem by outlining the dimensions along which new theories of brain function are situated.  I will briefly suggest an alternative conception of “brain function” that I think will ultimately work better than the candidates I identify in the extant literature.

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Realism, Instrumentalism, and Best Scientific Practice

April 12, 2013

Yoichi Ishida

I want to flesh out and explore Howard Stein’s ideas that there are methodological forms of realism and instrumentalism, which are distinct from standard forms of these positions, and that in the practice of science suitably sophisticated realism and instrumentalism should coexist or stand in “a dialectical tension,” as Stein says.