Charting the Heraclitean Brain: Perspectivism and Simplification in Models of the Motor Cortex

ERI 149
Arts and Law, Lectures Talks and Workshops, Research, Students
Wednesday 21st February 2018 (13:00-14:00)
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Philosophy Work in Progress Seminar Series 2017/18

The Philosophy department's work in progress seminar is an opportunity for the members of staff at Birmingham to present the material they are working on to each other and to the department's postgraduate students.
The seminar meets roughly on fortnightly Wednesdays from 13:00 to 14.00 in the ERI. All welcome!

*Professor Chirimuuta is a Visiting Scholar at Birmingham from January-August 2018.


The mainstream theory of the motor cortex is a computational and representational one, but it has been called into question because of an unresolved dispute over whether neurons in this region represent patterns of muscle activation or other movement parameters such as limb velocity. Some neuroscientists have recently argued that the representational theory should be replaced with a dynamical systems one.

Here I argue that both of these scientific perspectives are responses to the challenge of constructing relatively simple models of the brain, a system which is extremely complex in the Heraclitean sense that its structure and functions are continually changing with experience.

Because each of these perspectives employs different assumptions in order to make the task of modelling the brain tractable, they result in very different, and apparently inconsistent pictures of what the brain/mind is like, either an information processor analogous to a computer, or a non-representational dynamical system. I discuss proposals to reconcile these perspectives, and consider whether any non-perspectival insights about the nature of the brain/mind can be derived from these models.