Tag Archives: neuroscience

Revising the Three Structure Model: Integration in Neuroscience: A Core Problem – Part 8

Slide1

A Three Structure Model of Neural Activity in Relation to Consciousness and Language

In the last post I expended on the three model structure relating unconscious activity,conscious experience and language. In particular I looked at is how unconscious activity could be divided into absolute unconscious activity which would never reach conscious experience and transient unconscious activity which could. These changes are reflected in the diagram below.

ThreeStructureModelRevisedHow do these two types of unconscious activity that I’m proposing relate to language? A valid model would need practical applications and be able to say something useful about reality. Let us consider the example of the optic nerve. I have assumed that as one of the cranial nerves which conveys information to the visual cortex that it would be devoid of conscious experience. I don’t think this is too unreasonable. Now the question is how does absolute unconscious activity reach the stage of language? In the three structure model I have proposed that language would need to be preceded by conscious experience.

Intuitively we might suppose it is obvious that the information being transmitted from the eye via the optic nerve could be directly translated into language. However although there is processing in the retina before the information is transmitted down the optic nerve I am assuming that this is absolute unconscious activity. Therefore there has to be an indirect way for this activity to reach the stage of language. My suggestion is that this would occur by inference.

The reader may suppose that it is simple enough to demonstrate that activity in the retina leads directly to language describing this experience. For instance the simple act of opening one’s eyes in the morning allows the rays of sunshine to permeate the retinal layer. We might then say “it is very bright this morning”. Surely the activity in the retina has led directly to language? However the answer in this case is that it has not. Activity in the retinal layer is conveyed by the optic nerve to the visual cortex and also to other areas by the accessory optic tract. I would argue that it is in the visual cortex and visual association cortices where the conscious experience is occurring that precedes language.

However there is something quite curious that we need to explain. How is it that we can anticipate what the world will look like if one of our eyes is closed? We know intuitively that one part of the visual field will be obscured. I would argue that this is inference. We use our sensory apparatus almost continuously during wakefulness. We have developed through the course of our life a good understanding of what effects occur when we cover one eye, blink rapidly or look up suddenly. This understanding occurs through our conscious experience which is triangulated with a conscious experience occurring in the visual association cortex, visual cortex and associated areas.

The inferences that we make about the eye and its structures occurs in conscious experience and transient unconscious activity. If I close my eye I’m aware of the eye the eyelid and the surrounding structures. I know from past experience what will happen to my visual perception when I close the eye. When I close my eye my visual perception will alter. I’m combining direct conscious experience with a conscious experience based on inference about absolute unconscious activity. The direct conscious experience is exemplified by the statements

the wall in front of me is a pale blue in colour

The inference about absolute unconscious activity is exemplified by the statement

I will no longer see the blue wall in front of me when I close my eyes

 The study of physiology may lead to an improvement in the inferences that we are able to draw in our conscious experience. We are in effect model building. The conscious experience of inference about our sensory apparatus is most likely distinct from our conscious experience of visual perception. Continuing with this compartmentalisation both these types of conscious experience are very distinct from the absolute unconscious activity occurring in the retina. We might distinguish between the experiential conscious experience of immediate visual perception and the more formalised conscious experience of inference.

The Anatomy of the Eye

Accommodation – The Role of the Lens

Refraction in the Eye

Accommodation – The Role of the Iris

A Little Speculation

All of this follows from the assumptions set out in the three structure model. There is room for a little speculation although in doing this the conclusions are much less firm and this is really an exercise in opening up new vistas. Firstly the conscious experience of visual perception and that of inference may be expected to occur in distinct brain areas. The conscious experience of visual perception may be expected to be closely linked to the emotional centres in brain. The reason I suggest this is that when we are experiencing a landscape for instance, we can be caught up in the moment and access our feelings in response to what we are seeing. There are some difficulties with this however. The visual cortex is located at the back of the brain whereas the Limbic structures (e.g Anterior Cingulate Cortex) and Insular Cortex are located much further forward. However the experience of being able to access emotions more easily with visual perception needs to be balanced by hard calculations. For instance we can calculate how many neuron relays there are between one location and another and then utilise this information together with the conduction velocities. placing too much reliance on the timing of conscious experiences during introspection is fraught with difficulty.

Related Resources on the TAWOP Site

In Support of Method

A Review of the Structure of Scientific Revolutions

An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions

Integration in Neuroscience: A Core Problem – Part 1

Integration in Neuroscience: A Core Problem – Part 2

Integration in Neuroscience:A Core Problem – Part 3

Integration in Neuroscience: A Core Problem – Part 4: A Language for Mind and Brain?

Integration in Neuroscience: A Core Problem – Part 5: A Three Structure Model

Integration in Neuroscience: A Core Problem – Part 6: Reflection on the Three Structure Model

Integration in Neuroscience: A Core Problem – Part 7: The Unconscious in the Three Structure Model

Index: There are indices for the TAWOP site here and here Twitter: You can follow ‘The Amazing World of Psychiatry’ Twitter by clicking on this link. Podcast: You can listen to this post on Odiogo by clicking on this link (there may be a small delay between publishing of the blog article and the availability of the podcast). It is available for a limited period. TAWOP Channel: You can follow the TAWOP Channel on YouTube by clicking on this link. Responses: If you have any comments, you can leave them below or alternatively e-mail justinmarley17@yahoo.co.uk. Disclaimer: The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog.

The Unconscious in the Three Structure Model: Integration in Neuroscience: A Core Problem – Part 7

Slide1

This is a continuation of an investigation into the problem of integration in neuroscience (see Appendix for earlier posts in the series).

IntegrationInNeuroscience

A Three Structure Model of Neural Activity in Relation to Consciousness and Language

Here I will consider the first two structures within the model – neural activity and consciousness. The model states that neural activity leads to conscious experience. However we do not need to reinvent the wheel. Freud had developed an eloquent model which incorporates conscious and unconscious activity and from an experiential perspective this has construct validity. As I write this I am breathing and my heart is beating. I am not aware of this until I attend to these phenomenon. I know that the Medulla Cardiovascular Centre regulates heart rate through sympathetic and parasympathetic outflow. As soon as the need arises the cardiovascular centre will modify the heart rate but I will not need to be aware of it. Indeed if I start to run quickly this will happen automatically. I do not have time to think about it.

For the Medullary Respiratory Centre the situation is the same. Activity in the neurons here will causes me to breathe more quickly. I do not focus my activity on the respiratory rate when I run quickly. I just breathe more quickly due to a number of factors including activity in the neurons in the Medullary Respiratory Centre. Again neuronal activity is happening which I am not consciously aware of. In this model, unconscious activity means one of two things.

1. Unconscious activity results from neuronal activity. This unconscious activity can become conscious experience if it is attended to.

2. Unconscious activity is neuronal activity. This activity can never become conscious experience as there is no mechanism for it to do so.

Thus two types of unconscious activity are described here and in practice both types are likely. I will refer to unconscious activity which can never become conscious experience as Absolute Unconscious Experience Activity. I would refer to activity in the Optic Nerve as being Absolute Unconscious Experience Activity.  Although activity here is essential for visual perception, the activity here occurs at an early stage of visual processing and would be referred to as sensation rather than perception. Activity in the Optic Nerve can impact on our conscious experience.

The second type of unconscious activity I will refer to as Transient Unconscious Activity Experience. In this case neuronal activity does not reach conscious experience when it is unconscious activity. However it is capable of reaching conscious awareness. An example of breathing will again help to illustrate the point. As I think about this sentence I am concentrating on the concepts but am unaware of my breathing. If instead I focus on my breathing I become aware of the air moving through my nose and the sensation of my lungs expanding as well as the rhythm of inspiration and expiration. Unconscious Activity experience has become conscious experience. The neuronal correlates are much more complex however and would likely include range from components of the Peripheral Nervous System through to the Medulla, the Thalamus, Insular Cortex, Primary and Secondary Somatosensory Cortex, Somatosensory Association Cortices, Primary Motor Cortex and Premotor Cortex. The neuronal activity needs to occur in these areas. In one state of mind however I am unaware of this. In the other state I am aware of some of this background neuronal activity.

The three structure model must expand to incorporate these two types of unconscious activity.

Related Resources on the TAWOP Site

In Support of Method

A Review of the Structure of Scientific Revolutions

An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions

Integration in Neuroscience: A Core Problem – Part 1

Integration in Neuroscience: A Core Problem – Part 2

Integration in Neuroscience:A Core Problem – Part 3

Integration in Neuroscience: A Core Problem – Part 4: A Language for Mind and Brain?

Integration in Neuroscience: A Core Problem – Part 5: A Three Structure Model

Integration in Neuroscience: A Core Problem – Part 6: Reflection on the Three Structure Model

Index: There are indices for the TAWOP site here and here Twitter: You can follow ‘The Amazing World of Psychiatry’ Twitter by clicking on this link. Podcast: You can listen to this post on Odiogo by clicking on this link (there may be a small delay between publishing of the blog article and the availability of the podcast). It is available for a limited period. TAWOP Channel: You can follow the TAWOP Channel on YouTube by clicking on this link. Responses: If you have any comments, you can leave them below or alternatively e-mail justinmarley17@yahoo.co.uk. Disclaimer: The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog.

Integration in Neuroscience: A Core Problem – Part 6: Reflection on the Three Structure Model

In Part 5 of the series we looked at a three structure model of conscious experience, neural activity and language. These three ‘structures’ are important components of any detailed discussion of the mind-brain distinction.

IntegrationInNeuroscience

A Three Structure Model of Neural Activity in Relation to Consciousness and Language

Looking more closely at this model it can be seen that there is something distinct about the ‘conscious’ component of the model. This cannot be properly described through external observation. Conscious experience is something that we experience or else can understand in others through an empathic process which usually involves drawing inferences from the language that is spoken to us. In this way, conscious experience is very distinct from language and neural activity. We can understood neural activity through physiological investigation – functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, single electrode recording, electroencephalography, magnetoencephalography and so on.

We can understand language through meaning which implies using conscious experience to interpret this. However we can also analyse language by more abstract means which avoid the need for conscious experience. This can be demonstrated quite easily by making use of the Google translate feature. This feature translates text from one language to another. This is just one example of what happens when language is analysed without the medium of conscious experience. Conscious experience applies both to the subject being studied and to the observer. Theoretically therefore it is possible to study the neural correlates of abstract properties of language such as the number of times a certain word is used within a paragraph without the intermediary of conscious experience. Conscious experience may have been used earlier to construct the algorithms used to identify individual words and match them with words in a database. Once this work is done however the conscious experience intermediary is no longer needed. This is similar to the remarkable Gallant study where film footage was reverse engineered through the processing of fMRI data and movie data that had been watched previously. The conscious experience intermediary was obviated once these prior steps had been taken.

However considering neural activity and superficial aspects of language without looking at conscious experience is like being cast adrift in a rudderless ship. We may enjoy the ride but our destination remains a mystery. Conscious experience enables a narrative which shapes our inner world. The narrative breathes ‘life’ into action potentials and this ‘life’ becomes the spoken word. I may read a paragraph of writing. Each time I can speak it aloud without error. Each time I can understand what it is that is written. Each time I can rephrase it and retain the meaning. This is so obvious to our daily existence that we do not give it a second thought. But deconstruct it into the separate components above and the illusion shatters. We must then face the wondrous awe that is conscious experience assembled from the electrical activity of billions of neurons mediated through trillions of synapses. Happening from moment to moment. Without us needing to think about it.

Consciousness attracts people. Philosophers contemplate it. Romantics channel it. Empiricists deny it. Neurophysiologists measure it. Psychoanalysts explore it. Anaesthetists dampen it. Comedians brighten it. Adventurers actualise it. Authors communicate it. Anatomists localise it. Musicians play it. Dramatists exaggerate it. Leaders inspire it. Communities share it. And we all live in it. Yet when consciousness is modelled or described with colourful neuroimages there is an immediate sense that something wonderful has been lost. That an absurd reduction has been made which misses the point. What we are implicitly aware of is the magnificence of the show that the brain puts on for us. This is not just the output of lots of neurons showing their synergy. It is the output of layer upon layer of neurons, magnificent in their numbers but also magnificent in the specialisation of their assemblies. When we consider how all of these specialised neurons coordinate their roles so effortlessly it has become too much.

At the interface between mind and brain we see on one side the elegant stream of consciousness that Descarte’s homunculus sees on the brain’s projector screen. On the other side we see the projector, an elegant work of engineering whose activities match the stream of consciousness from second to second. We no longer have to leave it there. Little by little the architecture of the brain’s consciousness machinery is being clarified. There is a permission for our understanding of the stream of consciousness to become more refined. But along the way we must never lose sight of the special place that consciousness has and how we must cherish this meaning. Exploring the machinery of consciousness must not result in a dry taxonomy that can be processed without the need for conscious experience. Instead the machinery of consciousness must be contextualised as it is understood. Life must be breathed into this understanding so that it has social as well as academic meaning. So that this understanding inspires joy rather than caution or perplexion.

Related Resources on the TAWOP Site

In Support of Method

A Review of the Structure of Scientific Revolutions

An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions

Integration in Neuroscience: A Core Problem – Part 1

Integration in Neuroscience: A Core Problem – Part 2

Integration in Neuroscience:A Core Problem – Part 3

Integration in Neuroscience: A Core Problem – Part 4: A Language for Mind and Brain?

Integration in Neuroscience: A Core Problem – Part 5: A Three Structure Model

Index: There are indices for the TAWOP site here and here Twitter: You can follow ‘The Amazing World of Psychiatry’ Twitter by clicking on this link. Podcast: You can listen to this post on Odiogo by clicking on this link (there may be a small delay between publishing of the blog article and the availability of the podcast). It is available for a limited period. TAWOP Channel: You can follow the TAWOP Channel on YouTube by clicking on this link. Responses: If you have any comments, you can leave them below or alternatively e-mail justinmarley17@yahoo.co.uk. Disclaimer: The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog.

Integration in Neuroscience: A Core Problem – Part 5: A Three Structure Model

This series investigates the problem of integration in Neuroscience. The essence of this problem is that there is a clearly understood division of mind and brain. This division manifests in fundamentally different approaches to the investigation of mind and brain as well as the languages of the respective research communities. Many studies in Neuroscience make an attempt to bridge the gap between mind and brain. There are countless functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging studies with tailored methodologies which investigate correlations between neural activity and conscious experience.

This subject is all-encompassing as it has relevance to every area of human endeavour. Thus it is all too easy to lose direction unless the line of enquiry is structured so as to achieve a definable end-point. I have written previously about the possibility of a rich exchange between philosophical enquiry and the principles used by the scientific community (‘In Support of Method’ – See Appendix). To this end I propose a three structure model which delineates the proposed relationships between constructs discussed in the series to date. Further inquiry can lead to a refinement of this model.

IntegrationInNeuroscience

A Three Structure Model of Neural Activity in Relation to Consciousness and Language

The model states that neural activity leads to conscious experience and that conscious experience is required for the generation of language. The arrows relating these concepts imply a relationship which is either temporal and causal or simultaneous and correlative. To clarify this further it can be argued that conscious experience arises directly from neural activity – for instance that conscious experience is an epiphenomenon of neural activity. In this case we can see that conscious experience and neural activity may occur simultaneously. Therefore the arrow in this instance which leads from one to the other does not necessarily imply there is a flow of time between one phenomenon and the next. With language however we can be more certain about temporal correlations. In most instances, language generation is much slower to emerge than our conscious experience and we may more easily say that the arrow here demonstrates a flow of time in relation to some causal process.

The reason that I have included language is that this is an important medium for communicating information about our conscious experience. Whenever we talk about conscious experience as in phenomenology, we are mainly using language to communicate this conscious experience. This language is further interpreted by various means when we make inferences about a person’s conscious experiences or when we use psychometric tools for instance. This model applies to the relationship between mind and brain in an individual. The model can be further extended by incorporating the researcher or other person who will interpret or deconstruct the first person’s language so as to understand their conscious experience.

Related Resources on the TAWOP Site

In Support of Method

A Review of the Structure of Scientific Revolutions

An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions

Integration in Neuroscience: A Core Problem – Part 1

Integration in Neuroscience: A Core Problem – Part 2

Integration in Neuroscience:A Core Problem – Part 3

Index: There are indices for the TAWOP site here and here Twitter: You can follow ‘The Amazing World of Psychiatry’ Twitter by clicking on this link. Podcast: You can listen to this post on Odiogo by clicking on this link (there may be a small delay between publishing of the blog article and the availability of the podcast). It is available for a limited period. TAWOP Channel: You can follow the TAWOP Channel on YouTube by clicking on this link. Responses: If you have any comments, you can leave them below or alternatively e-mail justinmarley17@yahoo.co.uk. Disclaimer: The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog.

Integration in Neuroscience: A Core Problem – Part 4: A Language for Mind and Brain?

How do we manage the reality of a different language of the mind and brain? This is more than just semantics as the two languages have been explored in fundamentally different ways and have resulted in entirely different branches of science. For the language of mind we have introspection, the analysis of language and the use of language in assessment tools. The language of brain is one primarily of physiology and as such the branches of science that attend to this are based on the sensory observations regardless of whether they are direct as in the case of neuroanatomy or indirectly as in the case of the many neurophysiological investigations such as electroencephalography of fMRI to name just a few.

Whilst there are many pieces of research which investigate the question of combining these two disciplines these are necessarily more difficult in their methodology and can be more ambiguous than either field alone. There are notable exceptions such as the recent investigation of dream sleep in which the predictive utility of the neurophysiological investigations was found sufficient to enable researchers to predict the actual content of the subjects dreams. This was not of the type seen in the Gallant study which was based on complex modelling although similarly remarkable in its achievements. Both of these studies go some way in showing that there can be a successful combination of these approaches although the Gallant study was not dependent on the subjects reporting of their inner experiences as it was visible and obvious from the moving images that were reverse engineered.

However such studies have not always been so successful and many studies investigating the same question will find opposing answers. So what is the solution? My answer in previous posts has been that we should address this by developing a language of the mind and brain and one which is sufficient to cross the narrative bridges that have arisen in different scientific communities. Such a language has to have a pragmatic utility and to arise from the scientific findings. Such a language would have to be intuitive to the clinician and the scientist alike. Perhaps such a language is not possible although there are considerable benefits if it were. However the language is not the complete answer as there is a much deeper problem.

That problem is what we expect when we undertake investigations into the mind or brain. This is a more fundamental question. The core feature in discussions of the mind is of course consciousness. For Freud consciousness and the unconscious mind were two extremely important aspects of psychoanalysis. Both are intuitively obvious to the general public – so much so that they hardly need any introduction. We know what it is to be consciously aware from moment to moment and we know what it is to be asleep or otherwise unconscious. What though is the ultimate goal of the researcher of the mind? Is it really to make a prediction about what a subject will be thinking in one or two minutes time or to understand the essence of relationships between people for example. I think here we are talking about an investigation of the mind independent  of the brain in which neurophysiological correlates are unimportant. In this case the researchers are trying to develop a model which is imperfect but encapsulates a property of the human mind. We may say that this is an aspect of consciousness. Consciousness is not something tangible, something that we can see or hear other than as a distortion through language. Consciousness is an inherent property of another person’s brain and mind which we infer through direct observations (e.g emotional expressions, posture and so on) or hear (e.g through the person’s discussion of their internal experiences).

In so doing there is a certain amount of negotiation that we must make in everyday life in order to understand the mind of another. The ultimate measure of internal experiences is epitomised by the psychometric assessment tool. If we wish to assess a certain characteristic of the person’s mind there are many tools to do so which are effective in doing this. But let us investigate a little further. Suppose we have a tool for happiness. The tool must go through exhaustive trials to validate it. We must be certain that the construct that is being examined is the construct we understand to be happiness. There are various methods to ensure this and I will not go into these here. Let us suppose that this stage has been passed. There are a set of tools to be administered by the rater or self administered. These questions are distilled down to the most essential so that the tool is pragmatic. There are various approaches to refining these questions and we may be certain that the remaining questions are the most effective for the job.

Let us for a moment investigate this question a little further. Let us assume that I describe myself as happy and I ask a question. The question is ‘are you happy?’. When responding to this question I must pause for a moment and consider the response and consider what is being said in the question. Suppose I am experiencing that happiness now. How do I get to responding that I am happy. There are several steps which we may overlook as they are intuitive and immediate. I will pause briefly to consider the question and understand it. Assuming that I have understood it which itself is composed of multiple steps I must then make a choice. This to me, this process of making a choice is qualitatively different from the process of being happy. I must move from the non-reflective state of being happy to the considered state of wanting to make a choice. Assuming that i’m now in a completely different state i must recall how I was a few moments previously before this state was interrupted. If I don’t I may be in a state that is more common to answering questions than a natural state. This may be associated with a slight anxiety as anyone taking an exam will know.

Let us suppose I must give my state of happiness a number from 0 to 10 and that each number has a description which helps me to better match it to my internal state. Now if I answer a 6 or a 7 and come back tommorrow and in a similar state of happiness answer a 4 or 5 we will see that there is a false reduction in the attempt to get to the final state which is a numerical correlate of the experience. Let us suppose on the other hand that it is a good tool and always consistent and that my state is – whatever this means – is always ’5′. In other words let us assume that there is a perfect correlation between the number and my experience – a perfect numerical compartmentalisation of that experience. If that happiness were to increase by just a small amount it would be correlated with a small increase in the numerical score and that would be absolutely perfect in its relationship. This is a completely hypothetical example as it is such a difficult area and what we are trying to do is so artificial to some extent. When we consider a larger number of people the practical difficulties – the noise, the error – averages out and we get a better relationship.

Let us consider the tool on an individual basis. Suppose that I am answering the question about happiness. The experience of happiness could be subconcious in that i’m not consciously aware of it. I’m not focusing my attention on it from moment to moment but when I need to I can attend to this subconscious experience and create a numerical correlate. I am the instrument for this transition rather than the rater per se. Now I know that from moment to moment my thoughts vary. My thoughts might wander, I might simply be enjoying the scenery, I might be lost in a train of thought, I might be undertaking a complex piece of work but all the time I may be happy. This would be an emotional state. From the neurobiological perspective its entirely possible that while i’m doing all of these things I can be in a state of emotional happiness and its not too far fetched to suppose that the intensity of this emotional experience can vary from none at all through to extremely happy. In this simple example it is not too far fetched to suppose that my conscious experience can be correlated with a number in a meaningful way.

If I am happy this may also influence my thoughts on a continuous basis. I may experience happier thoughts, I may solve problems in a different way and so there is an opportunity for me to examine other qualitative aspects of my conscious experience without needing a numerical correlate. If my rating were zero and it was an accurate representation of my internal state then I might have few thoughts or my thoughts would be of a qualitatively different nature. Indeed if we think hard enough it is entirely possible to turn those qualitative aspects of conscious experience into quantitative components that correlate with my conscious experience.

Where do we go from here? We’ve assumed in the argument up until this point that a certain tool with the right questions will provide us with a simple measure of our internal experience and we have assumed that this is a perfect correlation – that it is a useful measure. What then do we do? I will argue that there are two things we are interested in. The first is providing an explanatory framework and the second is making a prediction. I will further suggest that when we look at physiological correlates we are doing exactly the same. In the clinical arena we are interested in whether people have one or another type of illness. We are interested in seeing if there is a response to treatment or if we should try another approach. So returning to the basic question of whether we have a neurophysiological correlate  of internal experience – what do we want it to do. I would say we want it to give us a measure of the severity of an internal state, a measure of the consistency of the internal state and we want it to provide us with an explanation and a prediction.

Returning to our example about happiness.  Let us suppose that I have identified the internal subjective state of happiness and assigned it a number 3 and i have obtained the physiological correlate and it is activation in a brain circuit which includes the Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex. Suppose on the fMRI scan that I therefore have the pattern  on a 3T scanner – if I scan people over and again – and given the noise/error rate – I can suspect that there is a correlation between one and the other. I can infer one state from the other. If I know the score on the psychometric tool I can know the physiological correlate. Or if I see the fMRI scan result and assuming a 1:1 correlation between physiological state and conscious experience, I can then infer the conscious experience and the numerical correlate.

Even taking into consideration the problems with methodology which are covered elsewhere which show up the flaws in this idealised argument, the next problem is that the fMRI scan data is fairly limited in its remit. There have been many studies which have pointed to flaws in the methodology ranging from poor blood flow/neural activity correlates to blood flow time delay. So what we’re looking at are changes in blood flow and changes in the BOLD signal. But that doesn’t tell us much about conscious experience. We know that conscious experience is most likely to be due to neural activity. I may say without doubt that conscious is an epiphenomenon of neural activity. The next problem is that if we return to the fMRI study data that we’re looking at the changes in blood flow. We could have a large amount of neural activity with little change in blood flow or the reverse case and this area is still poorly understood. So matching one methodology with another still leaves us with a problem.

The discussion above illustrates a few points. An idealised argument helps us to frame our thoughts. However the deeper we examine questions the more we see how flawed such idealised arguments are. The discussion of language is an important one. Even more important however is the ultimate goal of our research questions and the realistic objectives of interdisciplinary working and model building.

Related Resources on the TAWOP Site

Integration in Neuroscience: A Core Problem – Part 1

Integration in Neuroscience: A Core Problem – Part 2

Integration in Neuroscience:A Core Problem – Part 3

In Support of Method

A Review of the Structure of Scientific Revolutions

An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions – Part 1

An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions – Part 2

An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions – Part 3

An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions – Part 4

An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions – Part 5

An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions – Part 6

An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions – Part 7 – A Discussion of the Anomaly and Beyond

Do We Need A Crisis in Science For A Revolution to Occur? – An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions – Part 8

What is the Effect of a Scientific Crisis in Neuroscience? An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions – Part 9

Has Neuroscience Been Undergoing a Limited Political Revolution Rather Than A Scientific Revolution? An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions – Part 10

Is Neuroscience a Collection of Neuroscience Memes?: An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions – Part 11

What Would An Accurate Historical Narrative of Neuroscience Look Like? An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions – Part 12

Is Criticism Within Neuroscience Sufficient for a Revolution? An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions – Part 13

Is A Historical Narrative Central to the Development of Neuroscience? An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions – Part 14

Index: There are indices for the TAWOP site here and here Twitter: You can follow ‘The Amazing World of Psychiatry’ Twitter by clicking on this link. Podcast: You can listen to this post on Odiogo by clicking on this link (there may be a small delay between publishing of the blog article and the availability of the podcast). It is available for a limited period. TAWOP Channel: You can follow the TAWOP Channel on YouTube by clicking on this link. Responses: If you have any comments, you can leave them below or alternatively e-mail justinmarley17@yahoo.co.uk. Disclaimer: The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog.

An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions

‘The Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions’ is a response to Thomas Kuhn’s ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ and follows on from an earlier review of this work. This was originally written as a series of earlier posts and is a look at how Kuhn’s work relates to Neuroscience.

Part 1

The following is an attempt to interpret Thomas Kuhn’s ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ using the framework of a discipline which is eclectic, pragmatic and empirical in approach. The starting point of this interpretation is a review of ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ which the interested reader will find via the link in the Appendix. This first part is a response to the introduction. Kuhn writes in the introduction that the social sciences produce a response different to that of Chemistry, Astronomy, Biology and Mathematics. Interestingly one fundamental difference between the social sciences and the latter group is that they become possible only when there are sufficient numbers of people to form a society and that they have a well-developed language for communication. In evolutionary terms, the understanding of the former group of sciences has an immediate adaptive value that can be used by small groups. More explicitly a knowledge of chemistry can occur preverbally and enables the so-called hunter-gatherer to identify and extract minerals and by combustion to transform them into useful materials. A knowledge of Astronomy is gained preverbally by simply gazing at the sky and over time coming to an understanding of the movements of the stars, as well as the course of the moon and the direction of the rising and setting of the sun. So intuitive is this that a knowledge of the sky is used by migrating birds in relating stars to the North star as a simple example of a species adapting to the predictability that nature has provided. A knowledge of plant biology is obviously essential to herbivores and omnivores as another example of this instinctual primacy. In this regards there is something very different about the social sciences in evolutionary terms. Although they include other species, many notable examples of studies in the social sciences relate to humans. Indeed whole domains of the social sciences are devoted to the characteristics of people and their interactions with each other on both small and large scales. Given the recency of human origins, in evolutionary terms these sciences relate to recent developments in the evolutionary timeline. Indeed over the course of this period there have been further changes which may have influenced the nature of these small and large scale interactions.

Another difference between the subject matter of these sciences is that the social sciences are a product of the complexity of the mind and the human mind in particular. In terms of adaptation to the environment the human mind  has demonstrated sophisticated properties. While the human mind may have evolved to make predictions about the immediate world making the above sciences informally indispensable the social sciences raise the question of how the mind can study itself which taken to extreme lengths can be implied to be a logical paradox depending on the instrument of measurement. Another aspect of the human mind is the ability to adapt and this property superficially at least distinguishes it from the stellar bodies continuing on their well-defined courses. The person gazing at the setting sun can choose to walk away or towards it or engage in many different behaviours thereby distinguishing the course of the sun from their more sophisticated behavioural repertoire. Nevertheless the same arguments about prediction can be applied to the mind in theoretical terms at least. In this regards the social sciences also present an existential challenge in that this same expansive behavioural repertoire is incorporated into aspects of shared identity and a careful study and elucidation of these same behavioural repertoires can be interpreted as a minimisation of these important aspects of shared identity. Taking this further such a study can be interpreted in terms of underlying agendas when the same adaptive properties of the mind may respond with the most well-developed of those same adaptive properties. Thus the social sciences possess many unique properties and face many unique challenges. Kuhn brings in the concept of paradigm changes in science while exploring these phenomenon. His work in some senses incorporates and regards the social sciences in coming to a better understanding of science.

Part 2

This second part is a response to Chapter 1 of Thomas Kuhn’s ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’. In Chapter 1, Kuhn introduces #4 important concepts

#1 Historical revisionism of scientific revolutions obfuscates the antecedent phenomenon

#2 Scientific revolutions occur gradually

#3 Scientific revolutions require dialogue between proponents of conflicting models or views

#4 Normal science is distinct from the science of revolutions and contributes to the generation of the necessary tensions

In eclectic disciplines which draw from disparate sciences the above concepts have the potential to influence the evaluation of those same disciplines. Turning firstly to historical revisionism, an eclectic discipline is at risk of disengaging from the historical events occurring within the sciences which are drawn upon. The expertise necessary to evaluate those same events is contained within the relevant scientific communities and with it the ability to draw lessons from historical events. Even within a circumscribed scientific community, sufficient variation within the community is enough to influence the potential lessons that can be drawn particularly where the predictive utility of the leading model is difficult to evaluate. In such cases there is a risk of circularity in conclusions drawn which further impacts on future developments. One obvious solution is to develop expertise either jointly or resources with expertise in both fields.

With regards to the rate at which scientifc revolutions proceed a primary question is where such revolutions occur? In an eclectic discipline the question must be asked of whether such a revolution is occurring in other fields or within the eclectic discipline. Gradual events occur through subtle conversations within communities which can be missed if there is no direct involvement within that community. Imminent changes can be overlooked without knowledge of this discussion and this can be interpreted as stagnation within the discipline. With eclectic disciplines other avenues are open to the contribution towards scientific revolutions. These would include facilitation of the conversation and the contribution of an overview of perspectives for the purposes of comparison. In this regards such eclectic disciplines offer a natural forum for identifying obviously occurring debates between proponents of differing models and the identification of resolutions.

Normal science is firmly within the domain of the scientfic community and according to Kuhn is a defining characteristic of that same community. An eclectic discipline would fall outside of this domain unless as above, resources are allocated effectively and cooperatively.  Normal science is that area which has the most potential to differentiate the eclectic discipline from circumscribed sciences and to create the distinct identities of and tensions between both.

Part 3

 This third part is a response to Chapter 2 of Thomas Kuhn’s ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’. Kuhn named this chapter ‘The Route to Normal Science’ and here he expands on his concept of ‘normal science’ which he carefully contrasts with revolutionary science.

Central to the discussion are the characteristics of the research community. In moving from normal science to revolutionary science and back to normal science again several things happen within the research community. Firstly the research community has a shared and specialised language and central problems to solve. In moving to revolutionary science there is a splintering of the research community as the new paradigm arises. The research community is increasingly attracted to the new paradigm. Eventually the new paradigm succeeds and the process of normal science begins within this new paradigm. The research community initially uses a generalised language before developing a more specialised one which is relatively inaccessible to those outside of the community.

This transition describes a process within the research community itself.  Whenever communities contain are linked not just through research but through the practical application of that research then strictly speaking these additional common properties of the community are not included within Kuhn’s arguments and he makes explicit reference to such cases. In the case of eclectic communities which are identified more by practical research applications than research activities, the transition from normal science to revolutionary science to normal science again occurs within the related and distinct research communities. The eclectic community may influence the transition depending on their relationship with the research communities. Such a relationship may involve direct dialogue, indirect communication or the use of shared resources.

The eclectic community may also through involvement with many research communities facilitate revolutionary science. However if the eclectic community does not have the necessary infrastructure then any facilitation of a revolutionary paradigm shift may necessary be followed by the research community taking forward the normal science. If such is the case, it implies that revolutionary science involves more than one community and is differentiated from the single community driven process of normal science.

Part 4

This third part is a response to Chapter 3 of Thomas Kuhn’s ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’. In this chapter, Kuhn focuses on the nature of normal science.

In moving from a specific science to an eclectic science whose community interacts with many other scientific communities, Kuhn’s conclusions imply that the eclectic scientific community will have a limited role in the normal science of these other scientific communities. However they can play a more influential role in the revolutionary period marking paradigm changes although the conditions under which this occurs are not specified. However in building up a more accurate picture of the complexities of nature, the eclectic scientist must work with a multimodal model with each component sitting within a different community. Whilst a single model may enable a single community to work within relatively controlled conditions, a better approximation to nature through multimodal models necessitates a transition from controlled conditions to increasing boundaries of uncertainty.

This transition necessitates an understanding of the scientific community as well as the need to understand other scientific communities and to be able to build a valid bridge between the central paradigms. This is the crux of the problem. Can an essence of the paradigm within a community be abstracted and integrated with the essence of another paradigm or are the paradigms inherent in the scientific communities.

The question raises three possible answers. Firstly that the paradigms of different communities are incommensurable which Kuhn suggested was true of paradigms within a community at a time of revolutionary science. The second possibility is that the paradigms are reconcilable but they require an integration of the abstracted essences of these paradigms. The third possibility is also that they are reconcilable but are embedded within the communities and any reconciliation will result from communication between communities and perhaps even the development of a specialised interface language.

Part 5

 This fifth part is a response to Chapter 4 of Thomas Kuhn’s ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’. My understanding of this Chapter in Kuhn’s work is that there is a central paradigm which consists of a central model or set of statements. The model or statements exist within a larger more informal set of rules or assumptions. Thus any successful revolution is not simply a matter of improving upon the central model but also needs to address the surrounding infrastructure which is not just theoretical but also permeates the scientific community. The paradigm also determines which puzzles are considered solvable by the scientific community. This means that scientists may consider questions in light of the paradigm which they are working in and will discount potentially important questions on the basis that they are not thought to be solvable within the paradigm.

There are a number of factors which will lead to scientists considering puzzles solvable. These include the human and financial resources needed, the technical limitations of scientific equipment that is readily available as well as the prevailing values within the scientific community. For all of these factors there are variations within the scientists or departments which enable variation in the puzzles that are selected. We might expect that for each of the factors, the main qualities can be graphed and would form a normalised distribution. For instance, the funding in a department for solving a particular puzzle might show such a distribution. If these factors are normally distributed then the puzzles that can be solved might be those that require resources that fall within the peak of the distribution. Framing this in concrete terms, it may be that the community is more likely to select a puzzle that requires an average of two scientists working over a 2 year period with specific readily available equipment and a budget within a defined range. This would increase the likelihood of reproducibility. When any of these factors lie outside of the 95% confidence interval for these factors it would reduce the likelihood of reliability and perhaps even acceptance of the results within the community.

Part 6

This sixth part is a response to Chapter 5 of Thomas Kuhn’s ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’. Chapter 5 was reviewed in another post (see Appendix). A theme that Kuhn explored in this chapter was the dissociation of individual research from the surrounding paradigm. One possible way of thinking about this is that there is a common understanding in the community that the paradigm is useful and that there is no further need to think about it. The scientist is left to focus on the problems within that paradigm. One interpretation therefore is that the scientific community have implemented an efficient and abstract way of working together. The scientists within a scientific community  operate within different geographical locations and cultures but are connected through a globalised scientific culture which characterises their community. The boundaries of this culture have been explicitly stated in the form of the paradigm. The community has solved the problem of how people can work together efficiently. The rules have been worked out in an abstract form. The acceptance of papers in a peer reviewed journal by the peer group of the scientist can be seen as a tacit acknowledgement that their work fits into the paradigm.

The methodology that forms part of the ‘normal science’ is a well characterised set of behaviours that the scientist must engage in to replicate the conditions that have been established elsewhere. The outside observer may well draw parallels with ritualistic behaviour. However as a result of this ‘ritualised’ behaviour, the scientist is able to produce and document results which can be compared with the results of other studies. In this manner an evolution of knowledge occurs whereas elsewhere ritualistic behaviour although integral to group identity can be associated with invariance in order to maintain the group identity. Furthermore scientists can apply their knowledge in the form of technology. When the science relates accurately to the real world, the technology can enable the users of that technology to better adapt to their environment. Changes in technology can lead to a refinement of the methodological ‘rituals’ in a goal directed manner. This process is accelerated by competition and science is defined by change. Whether this is progress has been discussed elsewhere by Kuhn but the argument is altogether different when we talk about technology which however is outside the scope of the present discussion.

If we frame the discussion in this way it leads inexorably to another question. If one of the characteristics of science is to increase the collaborative efficiency of the global community of scientists, can that efficiency be increased further? If there is a process of doing science that is common to all branches of science then can that process be refined? If this is common to all of the branches of science then a better understanding of this would facilitate the creation of a common language for all scientists which can be refined by a concerted approach by all scientists. This may seem a rather vague comment but can be clarified by means of concrete examples. Aggregating data and knowledge from previous studies enables scientists to better formulate new studies by asking key questions or by generating new hypotheses on the basis of this aggregation. The scientists operating within branches of science as disparate as materials sciences and psychopharmacology use electronic databases of stored scientific papers in order to aggregate these papers. Indeed many software programs have been developed to facilitate this. Improving this process and investigating the most efficient workflows for scientists across all branches of science would enable scientists to improve their efficiency and do so by pooling their resources. In a sense this is a metascience with the potential to accelerate progress within fields. This metascience would include a branch of the social sciences in order to better understand the factors that influence scientific output (there is work on this already including that on citation indices).

Part 7

Thomas Kuhn’s ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ was a landmark publication which helped reassess and refine the understanding of the core principles of scientific endeavour. The essence of Kuhn’s work was that scientific activity occurs in two broad categories – normal science and revolutionary science.  At the time of revolutionary science, the core principles of the established scientific paradigm within a community are challenged by a competing paradigm. The resulting Hegelian Dialectical involves a replacement of the old paradigm by the new. The process of normal science occurs within a paradigm and describes the most common form of scientific activity where lines of inquiry reflect a tacit acceptance of the framework of assumptions of the guiding paradigm. In Chapter 6 (see Appendix) Kuhn writes about the anomaly in relation to emerging scientific discoveries. The essence of this chapter as I have interpreted it is that the revolutionary and normal scientific activities are inextricably linked. Kuhn suggests that anomalies arise during the course of normal science. A finding occurs which cannot be explained within the framework of the guiding paradigm. Further activity better characterises this anomaly and further lines of inquiry arise. Explanations for this anomaly give rise to a new paradigm – the revolutionary paradigm.

How can such an understanding be applied to a science which is eclectic, pragmatic and empirical in approach? One interpretation is that such a science cannot readily have the normal scientific activities unless these occur within the scientific community operating within the central paradigm. If this same science is eclectic in approach then it is disenfranchised from the above relationship between normal and revolutionary science as the normal science occurs within other scientific communities. The necessary anomalies result from the normal scientific activities of those communities and the anomalies are more readily recognised within those same communities. Additionally those same scientific communities may also be better equipped to investigate these anomalies and generate the foundations of the subsequent paradigms. However this period of revolutionary science is one of de novo generation. The iconic cultural events have yet to occur and eclectic scientific communities are well placed to participate in this movement although not to carry this through unless becoming part of this community. There are solutions which have been discussed in a previous post.

Interestingly individual branches of science may with time diversify to such an extent that rather than being homogenous they may instead come to form a heterogenous group of scientific communities. In this case any common identity necessitates the adoption of an eclectic understanding in contrast with superspecialisation if an identity is to be maintained. Indeed this tension between identity and specialisation may itself generate a misplaced expenditure of resources. This issue of superspecialisation however is distinct from that of Kuhn’s argument about anomalies but interacts as it must at the level of the culture of a scientific community. In his book, Kuhn gives the example of disciplines which are sufficiently refined with time as to become separate branches of science and indeed to generate their own sub-branches. This however was not central to Kuhn’s arguments. The textbook which Kuhn refers to elsewhere must also become an examplar of the eclectic approach to a branch of science being as it is aimed at the student. A distillation of the science for the initiate is necessarily bereft of the cultural nuances which make a scientific community as Kuhn’s work implies that one aspect of science is almost organic – ‘living’ within the scientific community with which it is synonymous. Indeed the distillation is only an approximation of the scientific language which is spoken by the community.

However one last point is that the anomaly is a key concept here as Kuhn is characterising the scientific community and not other communities.

Part 8

This eighth part is a response to Chapter 7. My review of Chapter 7 can be seen in the Appendix which should clarify some of the subsequent discussion. I have interpreted the essence of this chapter as the need for crises in science. These crises occur when scientists are repeatedly faced with anomalies which cannot be explained by the central paradigm.

At the time of writing, the discover of a Higgs boson-like particle at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider has dominated the news. In a previous post I have argued that this may in fact represent part of normal science since the experimental findings have confirmed the standard model. In other words the findings fit with the guiding paradigm. However there remains the possibility that this could herald a period of revolutionary science. When the LHC is in full operation, it may generate findings which do not fit with the Standard Model and which would represent anomalies. Kuhn predicts that repeated anomalies lead to crises. These crises necessitate an alternative model or theory to explain the occurrence of these repeated anomalies. Thus if the Standard Model generates many findings which are dissonant with the Standard Model these anomalies would lead to an alternative model with a debate between proponents of the two models and perhaps a transition between these models.

Whilst the above is supposition, the revolution in science isn’t an overnight phenomenon but one which takes place over lengthy periods. The culture changes, there are debates and in the twilight years of the passing paradigm the loyal proponents fight a rearguard action. Finally the transition is complete. From this perspective we can see that exciting scientific events widely disseminated in the media and discussed at significant length might not necessarily be the revolutionary science that Kuhn talks about. Instead the dust must settle and we must look not just at the science but at the players – the scientists themselves. We must wait to see the anomalies, the generation of a competing theory, the ensuing theoretical debate between the camps. Then it becomes clear that we are seeing a revolution. Even then though we must wait to see if the new paradigm succeeds.

Kuhn suggests that historical revisionism occurs at a frenetic pace and this is nowhere better exemplified than in the textbook which has a specialised goal of educating the student of science. Historical nuances and the struggle of the moment are transformed into the clear march of progress. The old redundant theory is simply brushed aside as the bold and better new all encompassing theory is pushed to the foreground. Kuhn notes instead that science is not necessarily progressive but that the proponents of science give the illusion of progress. I am inclined to disagree with him on this point although I will discuss this at length in another post. Perhaps the proponents of science are not too dissimilar to the proponents of any other discipline. People naturally form a group identity and perhaps it is the characteristics of this group identity which drive the historic revisionism that may be seen in the textbook. Maybe this approach is even the right one for the goals of education.

With regards to Kuhn’s work I am particularly interested in how it might apply to Psychiatry. There have been several movements that have fallen under the rubric of antipsychiatry or critical psychiatry. Could it be that the antipsychiatrists or critical psychiatrists have found the anomalies which are needed for revolutionary science in Psychiatry? Here is a brief consideration of a few

1. Dr Niall McLaren in his work ‘Humanising Madness’ (see review here) suggests that there is no coherent biopsychosocial model. Whilst this is a very interesting point for debate does it relate to the anomaly that has been discussed above? I would argue that it doesn’t. McLaren’s point is about something more fundamental – the very existence of the model itself. The model is the core of the paradigm and if it is argued that there is no coherent model then there can be no anomaly. However there are models but these occur within single domains (rather than spanning the biopsychosocial domain) and it is here that we can better talk of anomalies.

2. The effectiveness of medication. From time-to-time there are published meta-analyses which purport to show that medications don’t work. There are often ripostes which criticise the methodology of these studies or other meta-analyses which show that they do work. In terms of revolutionary science there is something very distinctive about these debates because there are other areas of consideration. Kuhn does in his work briefly suggest that in terms of science there is something distinctive about Medicine. Finding that a drug might not work is not just interesting from a scientific perspective but also has clinical implications that resonate far beyond the laboratory and must be treated with sensitivity.

From the perspective of revolutionary science does an anomalous finding about the efficacy of a medication herald the beginning of a revolutionary science? There are unlikely to be repeated crises because medications are rigorously tested and it would be unusual for a whole series of trials after some time to start showing the medication doesn’t work. When this does happen for instance in the case of antibiotic resistance there is another explanation altogether. However when meta-analyses are published they can highlight possible difficulties with efficacy although a single publication isn’t the repeated crises that Kuhn talks about.

In the hypothetical example of a medication which goes from being efficacious for a condition to ineffective through empirical trials the end-results don’t necessarily tell us too much about the paradigm. If a drug works or doesn’t work there could be any number of underlying reasons which range from how the medication is metabolised through to the types of receptors that it is acting on or the regulation of those same receptors or interactions with other aspects of treatment. The anomaly in this case is not specific enough to tell us about the underlying model. Perhaps the anomaly can only arise when we investigate specific components of the model – up or down-regulation of receptors types for example. Perhaps our models of treatment have to be multifaceted and the anomalies will occur in a very small component of this model.

3. Social Constructivism. There is the argument that diagnoses are social constructs that are distinct from illness conditions but in many cases overlap. If this were correct would it be an anomaly? Again this is unlikely because elsewhere I have argued that diagnoses categories represent the application of a body of scientific knowledge. There is an involved process which leads to the construction of the diagnostic category. If an illness condition were to go from existence to non-existence I would argue that this would not be an anomaly. The transition does not necessarily lead us into a better understanding of an underlying scientific model. There may for instance be difficulties with one of the stages in the process leading to the construction of the diagnostic entity.

Maybe the dissonant finding here tells us more about process than about science. Perhaps in order to be able to find anomalies we need to ensure that there is a consistency between the epidemiological findings for an illness and the various models of pathogenesis. When such a consistency is ensured then it may be possible to start to identify anomalous findings.

The multiple layers of consideration in the biological, psychological and social domains make the task a complex one but not insurmountable. First of all there must be a revolution in the way these problems are conceptualised.

Part 9

In an eclectic discipline such as Neuroscience, models are built using many different research paradigms. In Chapter 8 of Thomas Kuhn’s ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’, he writes about the response of the scientific communities to crises in science. Kuhn suggested that a paradigm was either successful in which case there would be an opposing paradigm (or paradigms) or else the paradigm was static and became a research tool. If we consider a Neuroscience model which borrows from several paradigms, how will Kuhn’s insights influence our understanding of this? Kuhn’s insights can be restated as

If a research paradigm is successful it will face competing research paradigms otherwise the unopposed paradigm will become an inactive science

If the Neuroscientist constructs an interdisciplinary model, then the Neuroscientist will borrow from several research paradigms. This leads to several possibilities according to the above statement. The model may incorporate a combination of active and inactive research paradigms. For the active paradigms, the Neuroscientist will need to choose one of the competing paradigms. In contrast if the model borrows from inactive research paradigms then no choice is needed as the dominant paradigm is unopposed. This latter possibility is more straightforward in terms of model building.

However if we return to the first example, what happens when a Neuroscience model borrows from active paradigms? Firstly the Neuroscientist must choose between competing paradigms and validate this choice. Secondly the validity of this model will be contingent on the paradigm debate within the research community. If the opposing paradigm prevails then the model becomes invalidated. Contrasting again with the second example of a model which borrows from inactive sciences – this model is more robust because the state of flux in the research community is absent.

In practical terms however the research paradigms more relevant to Neuroscience are numerous and we can ask what can we properly consider as a research paradigm. If we look at the actions of Serotonin on mood in the Limbic System, the phenomenon can be broken down into several components. The question of whether Serotonin is a Neurotransmitter that acts on neurons relates to a paradigm which can be considered as inactive. The ability of Serotonin to act as a neurotransmitter is not seriously challenged. A Medline search using the term “Serotonin Neurotransmitter” returns 100, 379 articles. Searching through the first 20 abstracts, none of the papers challenged the basic assertion that Serotonin is a neurotransmitter. Restricting the search to reviews using the term “Serotonin Neurotransmitter Review” retrieved 12, 319 articles. Looking at the first 20 abstracts, this paper suggests additional roles for Serotonin in platelets and via an action on Liver Serotonin receptors. However this does not challenge the theory that Serotonin acts as a Neurotransmitter.

We can easily find contemporary studies that support the theory that Serotonin acts as a neurotransmitter. Searching Medline using the term “Serotonin receptor depression” retrieves this paper in which Positron Emission Tomography was used. The researchers show that 5HT1 A receptor binding changes after treatment with a medication that increases Serotonin levels in the intracellular space – the Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. The central assumptions in this study are fairly straightforward including Serotonin’s action as a neurotransmitter. At this stage it is not too far fetched to say that researchers take it as read that Serotonin is a neurotransmitter and have moved on with their inquiries which in terms of the broader literature on Serotonin have become ever more esoteric.

Turning next to the relationship between Serotonin and the brain’s emotional centre – the Limbic System, this paper looks at the research evidence which shows that almost every type of Serotonin receptor is present in the Hippocampus. This discussion occurs in the field of Histology, the study of the microscopic properties of cells and tissues. This in turn borrows from a number of other research paradigms in order to build working models that are used to interpret the data. There are a large number of papers retrieved using the search term “Hippocampus Serotonin Receptor” although the central question of whether there are Serotonin receptors reliably found in the human Hippocampus is less clear without a more detailed analysis of the abstracts and papers.

Finally what can we say about the relationship between Serotonin, Mood and the Hippocampus? (limiting the Limbic system question to the Hippocampus). Using the search term “Serotonin Receptor Hippocampus Mood” did not retrieve any studies. However the PubMed interface automatically generated an alternative search term which utilised other terms as well as the OR operator to yield 403 results with varying degrees of relevance. These papers used a variety of different models. Again a superficial examination of the results did not show a clear answer to the question of whether mood was related to the Serotonin receptors in the Hippocampus. In addition, the research studies were complex and some were in vitro which meant that limited conclusions could be made regarding mood.

The analysis of one simple example above shows that the complex theoretical problems in understanding the psychopharmacological aspects of mood in relation to the Limbic Cortex are not resolved by simply considering the debate between two or more opposing research communities with different research paradigms. Instead there are many research paradigms. The central theories in these paradigms are robust and the the research (perhaps the ‘normal science’ that Kuhn refers to) becomes increasingly esoteric. By combining these research paradigms it becomes difficult to establish a clear causal pathway between receptor activation in one brain region and changes in mood.

The problem is that science works best when it takes a small part of the world under carefully controlled conditions and the scientist is able to manipulate a few variables leaving all other conditions invariant. In this regards physicists have had it lucky! The question of whether we can relate mood to changes in Serotonin in the Hippocampus is partly a ‘real world question’. To understand the relation to mood we must measure the person’s mood and how it changes over time. We cannot isolate a few molecules or a tissue. We must see the whole person. As soon as that is done, it becomes very difficult to produce controlled conditions. Ecologically valid studies require that the person is evaluated in the natural environment. Under those conditions there are large numbers of other factors that may influence mood. For instance there may be changes in the activity of Serotonin or other neurotransmitters in other areas of the brain, the optimal time period for evaluation may be unclear, there may diurnal changes in mood, physical activity levels may alter, hormonal changes, dietary changes, the metabolism of Serotonin may fluctuate due to various factors, relationships with other people may influence affect and mood and so on.

Perhaps it is the question of ‘real world evaluation’ which is the central problem for Neuroscience research and indeed for Psychiatric Research. Nevertheless when significant results are found this means that the observed effects are being seen despite this ‘real world’ problem. That in turn means that despite such challenges the scientists have been able to reliably identify real and important phenomenon. If we take the analogy of science as a magnifying glass looking at nature however the more esoteric studies are probably testing the resolution of the magnifying glass. Sometimes they exceed the resolution and produce artefacts while at other times they get it just right.

Part 10

When Thomas Kuhn published his landmark work on the philosophy of science ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ he perhaps didn’t realise the impact that this work would have. This work introduced the world to the term ‘paradigm change’ and shifted the focus on scientific revolutions away from the core scientific phenomenon to the characteristics of the scientific community. In Chapter 9, Kuhn looks at the differences between scientific and political revolutions. The key difference between these two types of revolutions is the central role of the anomaly in precipitating a scientific revolution. Let us consider Neuroscience as an example of an eclectic science. Has Neuroscience been undergoing a political rather than a scientific revolution?

In a political rather than a scientific revolution we would expect changes in the social organisation of Neuroscience and at the same time an absence of a central anomaly which drives debate. Is this what we see in practice? Many scientific disciplines have been amalgamating under the umbrella of ‘Neuro’. Indeed bloggers such as the Neurocritic and the Neuroskeptic have been very successful in addressing difficulties (and strengths) in Neuroscience studies particularly where simple ‘neuro’ assumptions are used. Here I refer to a ‘neuro’ assumption as one which fits with a political movement rather than the scientific data.

For instance the tenet of a political Neuroscience movement would be that ‘we can predict how people will behave by using the body of Neuroscience knowledge’. This is a statement of belief. The generation of a hypothesis and testing this against experimental data is an altogether different proposition however. The large number of variables make predictions extremely difficult in all but the simplest circumstances.  Instead, the interesting Neuroscience research is more limited in predictive utility but leads to a shifting perspective. The amalgamation of scientific disciplines under the umbrella of Neuroscience is to be welcomed however as it unites scientists in different research communities in pursuit of common interests often with clinical applications which ultimately will relieve suffering.

We see powerful Neuroscience institutes developing around the world and undertaking important research. Neuroscience Journals add to the burgeoning knowledge base and Neuroscience conference and social media networks bring Neuroscientists closer together. Neuroscientists feature increasingly in popular culture through popular books, documentaries and in Newspapers. The success of the Neuroscience movement is incontrovertible.

However the political Neuroscience movement with the mantra of ‘Neuroknowledge’ and ‘Neuropredictions’ is limited as any political scientific movement is by the absence of an accompanying beliefs and values system. Beliefs and values are distinct from scientific knowledge as they are choices rather than truths. Nevertheless they are essential features in any community. Until the problem of combining scientific and humanistic approaches is solved then the Political Neuroscience movement will  remain limited in its scope despite its present success. The Positive Psychology movement is one model which offers insights into this process.

The remaining issue is what is the central anomaly in Neuroscience. This is the crux of the issue. We have a powerful Neuroscience movement which is well funded and has many scientific branches affiliated. This though is the exact cause of the problem – what is the central paradigm and where is the central anomaly. There are many paradigms but they occur in only one affiliated field. Indeed many fields would not consider themselves affiliated to Neuroscience but working quite distinctly. Is the Central Paradigm a behavioural model or a cellular model or a neurotransmitter model or a neuroanatomical model or a neurocomputational model.

All of these approaches are currently found under the Neuroscience umbrella and scientists from many disciplines are competing with each other in the Neuroscience arena. However the terms of the debate need to be set and the arena more tightly defined.

Part 11

In the 10th Chapter of Thomas Kuhn’s ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’, Kuhn asks the reader to consider a central role for the mind in the scientific process. Kuhn’s key argument in this section of the book is that paradigm shifts correlate with perspective differences in looking at the prevalent paradigm in relation to anomalies. The anomaly is an invite for the scientist to shift perspective. What I find interesting here is that Kuhn has opened up the discussion of the mind and the fundamentals of science. Science is a process by which scientific knowledge is arrived at as well as the body of scientific knowledge itself. Another assumption about science is that it is a way of arriving at an approximation of the truth about the universe we live in.

Scientific findings or data can be both organised and disorganised. However the findings can be organised according to a taxonomic framework which is another important characteristic of science. Another framework is the model. The models can range in sophistication from a collection of a few simple statements to an elaborate mathematical model simulated on a computer. Disorganised findings or data includes esoteric findings in niche areas where insufficient resources including time have not allowed for the systematic organisation of data. Areas of scientific investigation that produce very large datasets are an example of data needing to be organised into knowledge.

From all of this we can deduce that the human mind is capable of approximating the truth about the universe through a scientific process. This approximation has a number of caveats. Scientific knowledge is a function of the human mind. This knowledge is predicated on underlying evidence tested against reason, other lines of evidence and expertise. The knowledge is also predicated on reproducibility. The scientist expects the ability to be in control of the knowledge in that sense that either they can test the model directly or can be satisfied that the underlying chain of assumptions for a model have been systematically tested. This is what Kuhn refers to as normal science.

These properties of science are also properties of the human mind. They constitute a set of beliefs and values about how things should be done and also about establishing a hierarchy of beliefs. These beliefs are described as hypotheses, theorems, facts, speculation and models depending on the underlying evidence as well as the views of the community.

The critic may argue that the human mind is irrelevant in this whole process. Newton stated in his second law of motion that Force = Mass x Acceleration. Knowing that this is the case, it does not matter whether we think it to be true or not. The universe carries on without us. A meteorite will continue to accelerate when it is in the gravitational field of Earth whether we believe it will or not.

A Video About Force

The response to the critic is not to get caught up in arguments about the validity of Newtonian Mechanics in view of General Relativity or Quantum Mechanics but to focus on Newton’s Second Law of Motion itself. Newton did not sit down and write his second law of motion for an impassive mechanistic universe. The proverbial apple dropping from the tree does not care if Newton has formulated the Law that anticipates it accelerating towards the ground. It just drops. Newton wrote his Second Law of Motion for the human mind. Scientific knowledge, scientific truth is a product of the human mind for the human mind. The scientist can say that they have discovered a neutral truth about the universe but they must do so within the parameters afforded to them by the human mind.

The scientific community that is central to Kuhn’s work is similarly constrained by the human mind. Scientific knowledge and scientific revolutions are determined by the actions of a mind or minds. Whenever we talk about science or scientific revolutions we see the footprint of the universe and the ‘mindprint’ of the human mind which tries to understand that universe. Newton’s second law of motion is written. Writing implies a shared understanding of what symbols mean. Those symbols are representations of language. Language is a shared mechanism that enables minds to communicate with each other. Newton’s very act of writing the Second Law of Motion was a statement that it was meant to be seen by the eyes, perceived by the brain and interpreted by the mind. The apple continues to drop.

Kuhn encouraged this vision of science. By shifting our perspective he enables us to share in the perspective shifting that occurs in scientific revolutions. However things have moved on since Kuhn wrote this work. Kuhn encourages us to explore these themes. If we move from one paradigm to another then Kuhn says there is a shifting in perspective. What might this mean about the underlying paradigm? To me it might mean that the paradigm being a function of mind operates within the mind. Dawkins refers to memes as successful ideas that occupy the mind. Memes are the ‘fittest’ ideas adapting to the environment of the mind. A paradigm is an organised collection of ‘science memes’.

Science memes must not just be adapted to the mind but must also be adapted to the Universe. Their task is altogether more complicated as like the genome itself they must be organised into a working whole. In this case, it does not matter if individual science memes (hypotheses and assumptions) are not well adapted. If the other science memes in the collection are well adapted then the model itself can be well adapted both to the mind and the Universe. When discussing collections of memes like this we can think of the body of Psychoanalytic Theory, Psychopharmacological Theories (e.g Serotonin and Mood) and the Standard Model of Physics. Indeed using this latter model perhaps we can see mathematics as a pure language of the mind that when tested against the Universe becomes Physics or related fields.

When the pure language of the mind that is language is tested against the Universe we run into more difficulties. This is because language is better adapted to the mind than mathematics. These memes can be disseminated more quickly and adapt more rapidly giving the testing against the Universe less time to catch up. When a Neuroscience finding emerges about the human mind discussion may occur rapidly with varying outcomes for these discussions. When the CERN accelerator produces a finding which may support the standard model the public discourse is extremely limited because the model is couched in complex mathematical terms.

Finally can anthropology tell us something about Neuroscience? I have written elsewhere about my observations about Lemurs. In this video I see some similarities with scientists as the Lemurs investigate the camera. By virtue of their divergent digits they have a degree of flexibility in their ability to manipulate the environment compared to cats and dogs from which they diverged approximately 25 million years previously. Evolution is about adaptation to the environment. The environment is part of the universe.

It doesn’t seem too unreasonable to suppose that adaptation to the environment means that the organism is better able to anticipate the future. This in turn implies an ‘understanding’ of the environment and therefore the Universe. This ‘understanding’ doesn’t need to be the mindful understanding that we possess but instead is a series of hardwired responses to the environment encoded in chemical processes. These responses mean that the organism is better able to obtain nutrients or evade predators. Increasing complexity may have resulted in us being able to communicate this understanding to each other in a flexible way that we call science.

Returning to the Lemur. The Lemur is able to pick up and push objects easily and in so doing is able to test new hypotheses about the environment that Cats and Dogs are less able to. How heavy is the object? How stable is the object? The Lemur’s body is an instrument for exploring the environment and the Lemur’s brain uses this tool to explore. Therefore the Lemur’s brain adapts to the tool it has at its disposal. Maybe the science of the Lemur brain has well developed concepts of weight and stability which have evolved directly from the divergent digits. Maybe Dolphins have an elegant and intuitive paradigm of fluid dynamics that is a function of adaptation to the environment and is hard and softwired into their brains and minds. Maybe that is what Dolphins communicate with each other.

Understanding the Lemur’s digits and their relation to understanding the environment will give us insights into our evolutionary journey and help us to understand how our science came about.

Part 12

Chapter 11 of Thomas Kuhn’s ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ is a deep discussion about historic revisionism in science. Kuhn argues that scientific revolutions are later rewritten in a much simplified narrative. In this narrative, two camps emerge both focused on solving a central problem. When the problem is iteratively solved, the successful problem solver is remembered as the revolutionary scientist whose work laid the foundations of the new paradigm.

Kuhn’s lesson from the chapter however is not this simple narrative. His lesson is that reality is more complex and less convenient than the brief explanation needed for the doctrine of a textbook. Kuhn argues that the usual course of historical revisionism is to caricaturise the main players. His insights were gained from a close study of historical events in science and he backs up his assertion with reference to well recognised examples.

If we turn to Neuroscience, we find a relatively young discipline. The term Neuroscience is young that is. However common interpretations of the history of Neuroscience often draw on historical events that date back several thousand years. Here are some examples of resources for the history of Neuroscience.

A University of Washington Guide

The Society for Neuroscience – History of Neuroscience Guide

Journal of the History of the Neurosciences

History of European Neuroscience – FENS

Whereas some of Kuhn’s examples of scientific revolutions resulted in new branches of science, Neuroscience is currently proceeding in an interesting and novel direction. This direction is one in which the very identity of Neuroscience is being forged. In a previous post I suggested that Neuroscience was undergoing a limited political revolution. A close examination of the above sources reveals that an intelligent reappraisal of history is taking place. In this reappraisal, events which are of historical scientific significance (e.g Descartes Mind-Body dualism, dissection of the Optic and other sensory nerves by Alcmaion of Crotona in 500 BC, the works of Sigmund Freud, Korbinian Brodmann, Santiago Ramón y Cajal and Gordon Holmes as well as contemporary neuroscientists) are integrated into an inclusive but overwhelming collection without a clear narrative.

There is a lot of work ahead in the field of the history of Neuroscience in order to develop an understanding of a remarkable series of discoveries made by people from many civilisations, continents and eras. Unlike other branches of science which Kuhn refers to, the problem is not one of caricaturisation of paradigm shifts but instead making sense of how we got to where we are. This understanding though is integral to establishing an identity of the field of Neuroscience. Perhaps it has taken thousands of years for scientists to get to the stage where they realise that all of these discoveries fall under one umbrella. This umbrella – Neuroscience – is perhaps one of the most complex and challenging scientific fields that has ever developed.

This field is so complex that even the basic question of what are the foundations of Neuroscience and a clear understanding of its identity remain elusive. Even while this identity is being developed a global transformation of the Neuroscience infrastructure is happening with a fast evolving alliance of different scientific communities and technologists. The applications of Neuroscience in clinical specialities such as Psychiatry are without question and the realised and potential benefits to society are immense.

Part 13

In Chapter 12 of ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ Thomas Kuhn looks at the process of scientific revolutions as well as the characteristics of the players. The revolutionary scientists can be outside of the research community looking in and are in a position to challenge the paradigm. In a sense they are better suited at playing the role of critics of the paradigm which Kuhn asserts is necessary for a scientific revolution.

He also suggests to us three ways in which a scientific paradigm is established as the successor

1. The paradigm survives criticism (Popper’s falsifiability)

2. The paradigm is supported by most of the evidence (Probabilistic)

3. The paradigm is supported by all of the evidence (Categorical) which is less realistic

Does Neuroscience, a complex branch of science with an emerging identity fit in the above model. In other words if we take the above ingredients will we arrive at a new paradigm? I would argue that the answer is no. The reason is that Neuroscience has a central philosophical problem which is one of integration.

At present there are many theorems within the domain of Neuroscience contained within various scientific communities allied to Neuroscience. However although revolutions can occur within these communities (consistent with Kuhn’s model) the question of what this means to Neuroscience is still not solved. Suppose for example that a new mechanism for the storage of memory in the brain at the cellular level is identified. Suppose also that this challenges the central paradigm of long term potentiation (LTP). What does this mean for our understanding of the social brain? What does it mean for our understanding of the mind? Will it impact on these things at all?

At present Neuroscience is so complex that not only are there pressing philosophical problems but there are also problems associated with the social infrastructure. Solving these challenges will be both interesting and fruitful as it has the potential to benefit many areas of human endeavour and to impact on health and the treatment of illness.

Part 14

Neuroscience is a relatively young branch of science which is being recognised as increasingly important. Discoveries in Neuroscience are informing clinical practice in Psychiatry, Neurology, Neurosurgery as well as in the wider mental health movement. Neuroscience research is varied and ranges from basic cellular and genetic research through to psychological and social studies. A central problem in Neuroscience has been to present a coherent and understandable narrative about what Neuroscience is and how it came about.

In his classic work ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’, Thomas Kuhn wrote extensively about scientific communities. Kuhn saw the most popular scientific discoveries as resulting from anomalies in the central paradigms owned by these same communities. For Kuhn the scientific community was inseparable from the scientific theories worked on by that community. In one sense the scientific theory was a  manifestation of the culture of the scientific community. There was one caveat however. For Kuhn, scientific communities behaved differently to other types of community. They were characterised by standardisation, central paradigms and ‘progress’ of sorts. Kuhn disagreed that there was actual progress. Instead he described the illusion of progress but essentially thought that the ‘gestalt’ paradigm described by the community may have been just as valid as the preceding paradigm.

Kuhn noticed another feature of the scientific community that distinguished scientists from members of other disciplines. Scientists could distill their knowledge in the form of textbooks, standardise their methodology and train scientists efficiently and effectively to undertake specialised scientific research. For Kuhn, science had a quality that led quite naturally to an efficient organisation of the findings from research studies. Although many of these qualities could equally describe other disciplines, the process of science also led quite naturally to the ‘progress’ of normal science. In other words normal science is an activity which must lead to a refinement of the body of scientific knowledge which in turn can reasonably be called progress. In contrast, a new painting in the style of the early 20th century impressionists does not lead inexorably to a refinement of the body of knowledge about impressionism.

For Kuhn, scientists had a strong sense of identity. They knew where they were coming from. They knew the landmark studies. They knew where their research fitted into the greater scheme of things. For Kuhn, historic revisionism produced a seamless historical narrative which obfuscated the complexity of the historical events appreciated by the historiographical connoisseur. There was a kind of practicality about it all. Scientific research led to refinement of the knowledge and historic revisionism pruned the complexity. This practicality was built into the fabric of science. Science was self-contained.

So what might we say about Neuroscience. Neuroscience is very different from other branches of science and shares some of the challenges of Psychiatry. Basic Neuroscience research spans many research communities. Those same communities can reasonably describe themselves as part of the Neuroscience community. The Neuroscience community however is an umbrella community containing a collection of smaller communities. The challenge for Neuroscience is to integrate those communities. This challenge occurs at all levels from the research infrastructure through to the historical narrative and the central paradigms owned by those communities. Indeed for certain communities, there are communities within communities as research becomes ever more specialised.

If as Kuhn asserts, Neuroscientists must establish a historical narrative what would it look like? Perhaps it would consist of a collection of narratives from within those communities. Here the critical question is whether or not Neuroscience needs an overarching historical narrative or a collection of historical narratives. The separate communities continue their research and generate their historical narratives both inside and outside of the wider neuroscience community.  However with increasing interdisciplinary research the findings from separate communities become increasingly important and the communities become more interconnected.

Perhaps this is the lesson for Neuroscience – the historical narrative needed for the formation of a core Neuroscience ‘identity’ will be complex and increasingly so as the body of neuroscience knowledge continues to grow. The neuroscience community must address the issue of identity through historical narrative and meet the significant challenges this poses. If Kuhn is correct, the rewards will be significant in helping Neuroscience to progress at an even greater pace and other related disciplines will benefit from the lessons learnt.

Index: There are indices for the TAWOP site here and here Twitter: You can follow ‘The Amazing World of Psychiatry’ Twitter by clicking on this link. Podcast: You can listen to this post on Odiogo by clicking on this link (there may be a small delay between publishing of the blog article and the availability of the podcast). It is available for a limited period. TAWOP Channel: You can follow the TAWOP Channel on YouTube by clicking on this link. Responses: If you have any comments, you can leave them below or alternatively e-mail justinmarley17@yahoo.co.uk. Disclaimer: The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog.

Integration in Neuroscience: A Core Problem – Part 3

In the last post in the series (see Appendix) I looked at the concept of ‘replicability’ of a word. If two people use the same word and are independently able to convincingly verify the word through measurement in the external world then this word will have a replicability of 1. I gave the example of a ‘centimetre’. I also discussed the limits of words and suggested that our inner experiences highlight the limitations of words. Ironically the words that we use are a product of our inner experiences. In order for language to be useful we assume a shared understanding of the words we use. Even within the last sentence, I have used a number of words such as ‘understanding’ and ‘assume’ in the assumption that the reader will readily understand these words in the same way that I do. Without these assumptions, this shared understanding language would be reduced to an unambiguous structure such as symbolic notation (e.g mathematics).

Programming languages are an excellent example. With such a language, the programmer will not use any ambiguity. The computer having no consciousness, no shared understanding – it must be instructed explicitly at each and every step. As time progresses computer languages become more sophisticated and these small explicit steps are nested inside words or structures being thus one step removed from the programmer but still present and implied in the usage of the new terms. We may also infer that in natural language usage, circumstantiality may be a similar attempt to make the meaning of words explicit. In such cases of natural language usage however it may give us useful clues into theory of mind. When there are difficulties with theory of mind perhaps in some cases there is a tendency to make explicit the meaning of words which may be seen as circumstantiality. The formal use of language may be an additional example of natural language usage where steps are taken to reduce perceived ambiguity in shared understanding. In this case, strict adherence to grammatical rules in all situations may be meant as an attempt to reduce ambiguity even when others would use informal language.

In recent studies by Gallant and Kasanti the researchers convincingly interpreted the neurophysiological correlates of inner experiences in a way which causes us to redefine ‘replicability’. Some might ask why Gallant et al’s study is any different from recording of retinal activity. However when the researchers in Gallant’s study recorded from areas V1-V3 in the Occipital Cortex they were recording from the brain, the location of conscious experience. By so doing they were in a way similar to the work of Penfield beginning to localise distinct phenomenological experiences. However their work was extremely elegant, allowing them to reverse engineer video footage that was seen by the research participants. By looking at the video below, the reader will i’m sure be convinced that they had achieved this result. I remarked at the time that the researchers had done away with the need for statistical analyses of the results as the audience could confirm their results by simply inspecting the footage.

Reconstruction of Video Images in Gallant’s Lab

Video Reconstructions of Clips Presented to 3 Subjects. The average of the best-fit clips is on the left, while those on the right are the best fit clips. Each row represents a single subject.

Gallant’s study makes the concept of the reproducibility of a word redundant. The researchers and participants knowing the methodology beforehand would not have to speak a single word to each other from the start to the end. The participants watch the footage, the brain activity is recorded, the software analyses the results and incorporates the data into a sophisticated model which is then used to reverse engineer the final footage that is presented. The study can be language independent. In this case the researchers and the subjects know that they are examining inner experiences. The researchers are able to use sensory experience – their vision – to visually inspect the final footage viewed by the research subjects and the reconstructed footage.

We can therefore return to the original question posed in the previous post ‘how can two people be certain that they are sharing the same meaning of a word’. For the word centimetre it just involves measuring and drawing a centimetre and comparing the results. For visual phenomenon when confined to words we are in a little bit of a difficult situation. This can be circumnavigated with the use of visual field testing and other similar methods. With Gallant’s study however two people may have a means to verify part of their visual experience of watching a movie. More importantly however those people can describe part of each other’s neurophysiology by means of a language independent comparison of video clips. The replicability is therefore the use of an external aid in conjunction with sensory processing of that external aid to enable two people to independently confirm the same fact relating to the neurophysiology of the brain.

Unfortunately there is a twist at the end as what I would like to say is that they could independently confirm the same fact relating to the conscious experience of the other person. After all that is what is effectively happening when we use language. Alas there is a final obstacle thrown in the way. The predictive value of the brain recording in Gallant’s study still does not tell us if it is conscious experience. The conversion of inner phenomenological experience into a physical correlate that is reproducible is still beyond our grasp. The mind/brain dichotomy remains.

Related Resources on the TAWOP Site

Integration in Neuroscience: A Core Problem – Part 1

Integration in Neuroscience: A Core Problem – Part 2

In Support of Method

A Review of the Structure of Scientific Revolutions

An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions – Part 1

An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions – Part 2

An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions – Part 3

An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions – Part 4

An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions – Part 5

An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions – Part 6

An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions – Part 7 – A Discussion of the Anomaly and Beyond

Do We Need A Crisis in Science For A Revolution to Occur? – An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions – Part 8

What is the Effect of a Scientific Crisis in Neuroscience? An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions – Part 9

Has Neuroscience Been Undergoing a Limited Political Revolution Rather Than A Scientific Revolution? An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions – Part 10

Is Neuroscience a Collection of Neuroscience Memes?: An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions – Part 11

What Would An Accurate Historical Narrative of Neuroscience Look Like? An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions – Part 12

Is Criticism Within Neuroscience Sufficient for a Revolution? An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions – Part 13

Is A Historical Narrative Central to the Development of Neuroscience? An Interpretation of Scientific Revolutions – Part 14

Index: There are indices for the TAWOP site here and here Twitter: You can follow ‘The Amazing World of Psychiatry’ Twitter by clicking on this link. Podcast: You can listen to this post on Odiogo by clicking on this link (there may be a small delay between publishing of the blog article and the availability of the podcast). It is available for a limited period. TAWOP Channel: You can follow the TAWOP Channel on YouTube by clicking on this link. Responses: If you have any comments, you can leave them below or alternatively e-mail justinmarley17@yahoo.co.uk. Disclaimer: The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog.