Archive for February, 2014

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The Multiplicity of Protocols

February 28, 2014

David Colaco

Abstract: I investigate what implications (1) effects being dependent on experimental protocols, and (2) a multiplicity of experimental protocols, have for convergence and generalization – which I refer to jointly as extension – of findings in neuroscience and other sciences. Together, these claims raise concerns over whether we can compare findings across laboratories, or generalize them to the world. I introduce two successful cases of extension despite different protocols. These cases elucidate what kinds of differences are relevant to extension. In particular, I focus on the role the research purpose plays in understanding which differences make a difference and which do not.

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The Cognitive Neuroscience Revolution

February 24, 2014

Trey Boone

Abstract: Once upon a time, there was cognitive science—the interdisciplinary study of cognition. It included (aspects of) six disciplines: psychology, computer science, linguistics, anthropology, neuroscience, and philosophy. The six disciplines were supposed to work together towards understanding cognition, but there was also a clear division of labor between them. On one side stood psychology, with the help of computer science, linguistics, anthropology, and philosophy; on the other side stood neuroscience. Psychology etc. studied the functional, cognitive, or—in Marr’s terminology—the computational and algorithmic levels; neuroscience investigated the neural, mechanistic, or implementation level. These two approaches were considered to be autonomous from one another. This division of labor leaves no room for cognitive neuroscience. Indeed, from this perspective, the very term “cognitive neuroscience” is almost an oxymoron, because neuroscience is supposed to deal with the mechanisms that implement cognitive processes, not with cognition proper. Yet cognitive neuroscience has emerged as the new mainstream in cognitive science. What gives?

We argue that cognitive science as traditionally conceived is on its way out and is being replaced by cognitive neuroscience, broadly construed. Cognitive neuroscience is still an interdisciplinary investigation of cognition. It still includes (aspects of) the same six disciplines (psychology, computer science, linguistics, anthropology, neuroscience, and philosophy). But the old division of labor is gone.

The old two-level view (functional/cognitive/computational vs. neural/mechanistic/implementation) is being replaced by a view on which there are many levels of mechanistic organization. No one level has a monopoly on cognition proper. Instead, different levels are more or less cognitive depending on their specific properties. Old psychological theories pitched at the “functional level” are simply sketches of mechanistic explanations at one of many levels of mechanistic organization (Piccinini and Craver 2011). The disciplines contributing to cognitive science are not autonomous from one another. Instead, these different disciplines contribute to the common enterprise of constructing multilevel mechanistic explanations of cognitive phenomena.

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Women and Philosophy: Why is it “Goodbye” at “Hello”?

February 21, 2014
Morgan Thompson
Abstract: Although women are underrepresented in most levels of the philosophy profession, work by Molly Paxton, Carrie Figdor, and Valerie Tiberius (2012) suggests that the drop-off in representation occurs between intro courses and majoring in philosophy. In order to look for potential explanations of the underrepresentation of women in philosophy at the undergraduate level, Toni Adleberg, Sam Sims, Eddy Nahmias, and I created and conducted a climate survey of over 700 students enrolled in Introduction to Philosophy at Georgia State University in fall of 2012 and again in fall of 2013. We aimed to test a number of hypotheses about why women might leave philosophy disproportionately to men after intro courses. Based on our findings from the 2012 climate survey, we devised two interventions to perform in intro courses in fall of 2013. In this talk, I will be presenting the results of these interventions. First, we required all graduate students teaching in fall of 2013 to have at least 20% women authors on their syllabi. Second, in half of the classes in 2013, the instructors gave a presentation on philosophy’s relevance to the students’ lives and usefulness for future employment opportunities. Finally, I will interpret our results and draw implications for the gender gap in philosophy as a whole as well as provide concrete suggestions and resources to help interested parties apply these interventions to their own Intro courses.
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Varieties of Neural Multi-Functionality

February 7, 2014

Joseph B. McCaffrey

Abstract: Many philosophers and cognitive scientists worry that the prevalence of multi-functional brain areas raises new challenges for the project of structure-function mapping in cognitive neuroscience.  Cathy Price and Karl Friston, on one hand, and Colin Klein, on the other, have recently offered competing accounts of the nature and significance of neural multi-functionality.  Price and Friston argue that brain areas perform many functions at one level of description and a single function at another.  Thus, researchers will need to develop a new ontology of brain functions to obtain robust structure-function mappings.  According to Klein, Price and Friston’s strategy is bound to yield vague or uninformative mappings.  Klein proposes that neuroscientists should restrict structure-function mappings to particular contexts instead of seeking functional descriptions that hold across different contexts.  In this essay, I claim that neither target account is likely to succeed as a general treatment of multi-functionality in cognitive neuroscience.  Using Carl Craver’s distinction between “activities” and “role functions,” I distinguish two ways of interpreting the dispute between Price and Friston and Klein.  Drawing on this distinction, I argue that both accounts rely on unmotivated theoretical commitments or unwarranted assumptions about the functional architecture of the brain. Drawing on examples from neurobiology and cognitive neuroscience, I argue it is plausible that the brain contains different kinds of multi-functional parts.  I conclude that a more nuanced account of neural multi-functionality would need to countenance this possibility.