How we might be able to Understand the Brain

Josephson, Brian D. (2004) How we might be able to Understand the Brain. [Conference Paper] (Unpublished)


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Current methodologies in the neurosciences have difficulty in accounting for complex phenomena such as language, which can however be quite well characterised in phenomenological terms. This paper addresses the issue of unifying the two approaches. We typically understand complicated systems in terms of a collection of models, each characterisable in principle within a formal system, it being possible to explain higher-level properties in terms of lower level ones by means of a series of inferences based on these models. We consider the nervous system to be a mechanism for implementing the demands of an appropriate collection of models, each concerned with some aspect of brain and behaviour, the observer mechanism of Baas playing an important role in matching model and behaviour in this context. The discussion expounds these ideas in detail, showing their potential utility in connection with real problems of brain and behaviour, important areas where the ideas can be applied including the development of higher levels of abstraction, and linguistic behaviour, as described in the works of Karmiloff-Smith and Jackendoff respectively.

Item Type:Conference Paper
Additional Information:Included is the PowerPoint presentation for the lecture, in PowerPoint and pdf formats, and a video interview recorded at the conference on behalf of Complexity Digest.
Keywords:nervous system, brain modelling, language, hyperstructure, representational redescription, emergence
Subjects:Neuroscience > Neural Modelling
Computer Science > Complexity Theory
Linguistics > Learnability
ID Code:3655
Deposited By: Josephson, Prof. Brian D.
Deposited On:05 Jun 2004
Last Modified:11 Mar 2011 08:55

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References in Article

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Arbib, Michael (2000), The Mirror System, in Imitation and the Evolution of Language, in Imitation in Animals and Artifacts, Nehaniv, C. and Dautenhahn, K. (a more recent version of Arbib’s ideas can be found in a commentary document for Brain and Behavioral Sciences, at )

Baas, N.A. (1994); Emergence, Hierarchies and Hyperstructures; Artificial Life III (ed. C.G. Langton, Addison-Wesley (pp. 515–537).

Jackendoff, R. (2002) Foundations of Language, Oxford, Oxford.

Josephson, B.D. (2002) Abstractions and the Brain, SEED 2, 28–35

(e-print at )

Karmiloff-Smith, A. (1992); Beyond Modularity: a Developmental Perspective on Cognitive Science, MIT.

Pinker, S. (1994); The Language Instinct: the New Science of Language; Penguin

Quartz, Steven R. and Sejnowski, Terrence J. (1997) The neural basis of cognitive development: a constructivist manifesto, Behavioural and Brain Sciences 20(4), 537–556.


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