Archive for September, 2014

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The Brain’s Heterogeneous Functional Landscape

September 26, 2014

Joe McCaffrey

Abstract: While many cognitive neuroscientists believe that brain areas are often “multi-functional,” no one knows exactly what this means. Cathy Price and Karl Friston claim that brain areas typically perform many functions at one level of description and a single function at another level of description. Therefore, neuroscientists need to develop new “cognitive ontologies” to capture these functional similarities. Colin Klein draws a very different lesson from the same findings: neuroscientists should map functions onto the brain in a “context-sensitive” fashion. In this essay, I claim that neither account is likely to succeed as a general treatment of multi-functionality. I argue that both accounts rely on a “uniformity assumption,” which holds that brain areas are multi-functional in a canonical way. I contend that this assumption is mistaken—it is plausible that brain areas, like other biological components, are multi-functional in a variety of scientifically-interesting respects. I call this the “Functional Heterogeneity Hypothesis.”

 

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Charles Darwin’s Reaction to William Sharp MacLeay

September 11, 2014

Aaron Novick

Abstract: Charles Darwin, in his notebooks of the late 1830s, engaged in a sustained attempt to sort out the merits and demerits of the quinarian system (developed by William Sharp MacLeay and William Swainson in the 1820s and 1830s). By 1844, he could quickly dismiss the quinarian system as incompatible with his transmutationist theory. As yet there is no fully satisfying account (a) of this shift in opinion and (b) of the nature of Darwin’s engagement with the quinarian system. I aim to provide such an account.