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Levels of biological plausibility

Love, BC; (2021) Levels of biological plausibility. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences , 376 (1815) 10.1098/rstb.2019.0632. Green open access

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Abstract

Notions of mechanism, emergence, reduction and explanation are all tied to levels of analysis. I cover the relationship between lower and higher levels, suggest a level of mechanism approach for neuroscience in which the components of a mechanism can themselves be further decomposed and argue that scientists' goals are best realized by focusing on pragmatic concerns rather than on metaphysical claims about what is 'real'. Inexplicably, neuroscientists are enchanted by both reduction and emergence. A fascination with reduction is misplaced given that theory is neither sufficiently developed nor formal to allow it, whereas metaphysical claims of emergence bring physicalism into question. Moreover, neuroscience's existence as a discipline is owed to higher-level concepts that prove useful in practice. Claims of biological plausibility are shown to be incoherent from a level of mechanism view and more generally are vacuous. Instead, the relevant findings to address should be specified so that model selection procedures can adjudicate between competing accounts. Model selection can help reduce theoretical confusions and direct empirical investigations. Although measures themselves, such as behaviour, blood-oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) and single-unit recordings, are not levels of analysis, like levels, no measure is fundamental and understanding how measures relate can hasten scientific progress. This article is part of the theme issue 'Key relationships between non-invasive functional neuroimaging and the underlying neuronal activity'.

Type: Article
Title: Levels of biological plausibility
Location: England
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2019.0632
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2019.0632
Language: English
Additional information: © 2020 The Authors. Published by the Royal Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/, which permits unrestricted use, provided the original author and source are credited.
Keywords: biological plausibility, emergence, levels of analysis, mechanism, model selection, reduction
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences > Experimental Psychology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10115396
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