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Simulation and Counterfactual Reasoning in Neuroscience

English title Simulation and Counterfactual Reasoning in Neuroscience
Applicant Weber Marcel
Number 160024
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Département de Philosophie Faculté des Lettres Université de Genève
Institution of higher education University of Geneva - GE
Main discipline Philosophy
Start/End 01.09.2015 - 31.08.2018
Approved amount 182'754.00
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Keywords (5)

Philosophy of science; Simulation; Neuroscience; Counterfactual reasoning; Experiment

Lay Summary (French)

Lead
La simulation et le raisonnement contrefactuel en neurosciencesLa simulation des processus et structures du cerveau devient de plus en plus importante en neurosciences contemporaines, mais l’épistémologie de cette approche n’est pas très bien connue. La philosophie des sciences peut éclaircir les raisonnements qui sont liés aux diverses techniques de simulation afin de mieux comprendre leur rôle ainsi que leurs limites en neurosciences contemporaines.
Lay summary

Contenu et objectifs du travail de recherche

Ce projet proposera une analyse épistémologique des pratiques de simulation en neurosciences. Le but premier de ces pratiques n’est pas la construction de machines intelligentes mais l’élaboration de modèles des processus opérant dans le système nerveux. Cela fait plus de 50 ans que l’informatique joue un rôle crucial dans les neurosciences, il ne s’agit donc pas d’une approche nouvelle. Pourtant, force est de constater que la philosophie des sciences n’a guère analysé les aspects épistémologiques de ces pratiques. Ceci est d’autant plus surprenant si l’on considère que les pratiques de simulation en physique et en climatologie ont fait l’objet de nombreuses études philosophiques. Les questions principales abordées dans ces études concernent la question de savoir ce que la simulation d’un processus peut nous enseigner sur la nature. En particulier, est-ce qu’une simulation est comparable à une expérience scientifique à cet égard ou s’agit-il d’une technique complètement différente, sans rapport avec les méthodes expérimentales traditionnelles? Normalement, les simulations permettent aux scientifiques de déterminer les propriétés des équations qui ne sont pas solubles analytiquement. Cette approche existe bien sûr en neurosciences, mais on y trouve également beaucoup d’autres types de simulation par exemple, la construction de réseaux neuronaux artificiels, qui ne ressemble à aucune autre pratique de simulation dans les sciences naturelles. L’idée centrale de ce projet est de considérer la simulation comme une forme de raisonnement contrefactuel, c’est-à-dire, un raisonnement qui analyse des situations irréelles afin de révéler les principes responsables de certains phénomènes naturels.

Mots clés

Neurosciences, simulation, informatique, philosophie des sciences, épistémologie, expérience scientifique
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 09.04.2015

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
Function and Malfunction in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences and Social Sciences
BonninThomas, Hernández‑ChávezPaola, HladkyMichal, PascalC. David Suarez (2018), Function and Malfunction in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences and Social Sciences, in Biological Theory, 13, 39-43.
Simulation and Thought Experiment
HladkyMichal, SchlaepferGuillaume (2017), Simulation and Thought Experiment, in The Reasoner, 11(7), 44-45.
Interview: Bas Van Fraassen
BabicJoshua, CoccoLorenzo, HladkyMichal (2017), Interview: Bas Van Fraassen, in iPhilo, 9, 31-41.

Collaboration

Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
DFG-Forschergruppe "Was wäre wenn?", Universität Konstanz Germany (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Prof. Claus Beisbart, Institut für Philosophie, Universität Bern Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Human Brain Project, EPFL Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Scientific retreat of the ‘What if?’ research group, Kloster Hegne in Allensbach-Hegne, Germany Talk given at a conference Mapping vs. Representational Accounts of Models and Simulations 18.01.2019 Allensbach, Germany Hladky Michal; Weber Marcel;
Fifth European Advanced School in the Philosophy of the Life Sciences (EASPLS) on the Interdisciplinarity in the Life Sciences and their Philosophy Talk given at a conference Comment on 'Taming cancer complexity through integration. A philosophical analysis for precision medicine' by Professor Giovanni Boniolo 14.09.2018 Klosterneuburg, Austria Hladky Michal;
Workshop on the Metapyhsics of Representation Talk given at a conference Imaginary invalid! Deflating the model bubble 25.08.2018 Ligerz, Switzerland Hladky Michal;
Society for the Metaphysics of Science, 4th Annual Conference, University of Milan, Italy Talk given at a conference Comment on ‘There Is No (Special) Problem of Ontology of Theoretical Models’ by Martin Zach 24.08.2018 Milano, Italy Hladky Michal;
Ludwik Fleck Kolloquium: „Experimentieren. Zur Praxis wissenschaftlichen Forschens Teil II". Collegium Helveticum Talk given at a conference Synthetische Modelle, Simulationen und Experimente in der Biologie 23.03.2018 Zürich, Switzerland Weber Marcel;
Models and Simulations 8, University of South Carolina, Columbia SC, USA Talk given at a conference Simulations - Lessons from model theory 15.03.2018 Columbia, SC, United States of America Hladky Michal;
Scientific retreat of the ‘What if?’ research group, Kloster Hegne in Allensbach-Hegne Talk given at a conference Simulations – lessons from model theory 11.01.2018 Allensbach, Germany Weber Marcel; Hladky Michal;
Phileas - 25th Conference cycle, University of Geneva Individual talk Neuroscience without brains – in silico experiments 16.11.2017 Genève, Switzerland Hladky Michal;
Bordeaux-Geneva Colloquium in Philosophy of Biology Talk given at a conference Simulations of experiments and in silico experiments in neuroscience 10.10.2017 Genève, Switzerland Weber Marcel; Hladky Michal;
CUSO workshop - Sujets conscients et rationnels en tant qu’entités biologiques [Conscious and rational subjects as biological entities] Talk given at a conference Simulations – lessons from model theory 01.10.2017 Champex-Lac, Switzerland Hladky Michal;
Scientific retreat of the ‘What if?’ research group, Kloster Hegne in Allensbach-Hegne, Germany Talk given at a conference Simulations and in silico experiments in neuroscience 14.01.2017 Allensbach, Germany Weber Marcel; Hladky Michal;
Neuroclub, Geneva Neurosciene Center, Faculté de médecine, Université de Genève Individual talk Le cerveau et le mécanisme 15.12.2016 Genève, Switzerland Weber Marcel;
Summer school - On Simulation in Science, Institute for Advanced Study on Media Cultures of Computer Simulation (MECS), Leuphana University Lüneburg Talk given at a conference In silico experiments in neuroscience 27.09.2016 Lenzen, Germany Hladky Michal;
EPSA 2015 (Biennial Meeting of the European Philosophy of Science Association), University of Düsseldorf Talk given at a conference Causality in Dynamical Biological Mechanisms 23.09.2015 Düsseldorf, Germany Weber Marcel;


Self-organised

Title Date Place
Conscious and Rational Subjects as Biological Entities 30.09.2017 Champex-Lac, Switzerland
Simulation and Thought Experiment 08.06.2017 Genève, Switzerland

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
184193 Simulation and counterfactual reasoning in neuroscience 01.01.2019 Doc.Mobility
140885 Kontrafaktisches Denken in der Biologie 01.04.2012 Project funding (Div. I-III)

Abstract

This project will investigate the role of simulations as a form of counterfactual reasoning in the contemporary neurosciences. It will focus in particular on the use of computer simulations in order to produce models of brain architecture and function, not so much in order to simu-late cognitive processes as such ("weak" rather than "strong" Artificial Intelligence according to a distinction proposed by Searle 1980). In classical computational neuroscience, action potentials are modeled by computing numerical solutions to mathematical equations such as the influential Hodgkin-Huxley (HH) equations, which do not admit of analytical solutions. This approach mirrors the traditional use of computer simulations in other areas of science, e.g., physics, climate science or economics. However, in contemporary neuroscience there is also a bewildering variety of other simulation techniques that may or may not resemble the traditional approach. These techniques have rarely been examined from a philosophy of science point of view.This project will closely investigate the simulation practices of contemporary neuroscience. A first goal will be to provide a survey of different uses of simulation in the contemporary neurosciences. In a second stage, it will treat these simulations as providing scientists with specific counterfactual conditionals the antecedents of which are modeling assumptions and the consequents describe some possible neurological state, structure or process. This counterfactual analysis will be used in a third stage to provide a more integrative view of the different scientific activities of simulation, modeling, experimentation and thought experiments. The relationship between these different scientific techniques has been controversially discussed in the philosophical literature. Viewing them all as involving some kind of counterfactuality will enable us to better understand the commonalities as well as differences with respect to their epistemic role. The project will be an integrated part of the DFG Research Unit (DFG-Forschergruppe) "What if? On the epistemological, pragmatic, psychological and cultural significance of coun-terfactual reasoning" (2015-2018, grant application pending), which is a continuation of the existing research unit "What if? On the meaning, epistemology and scientific relevance of counterfactual claims and thought experiments" based at the University of Konstanz (2012-2015). The predecessor to this project, “Counterfactual Reasoning in Biology” (SNSF project Nr. 100018_140885, 2012-2015), is also a part of the DFG Research Unit, a collaboration that turned out to be very fruitful. As the DFG-Research Unit has applied for a three-year prolongation, the current project plans to continue this collaboration.
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