Talking about a theory for neuroscience

I’m giving a talk this evening for the Philosophical Society of Washington–the abstract is here. One of the issues that jumps out whenever I give one of these talks is how neuroscience, unlike disciplines such as physics or chemistry, lacks a general theory that provides a framework or skeleton for both old knowledge and more importantly new discoveries.

As a discipline, we in neuroscience, are very good at amassing and organizing (and even sharing) data. But a general theory (analogous to say quantum mechanics or relativity)–that we are lacking. Instead we have a multitude of nascent bounded theories for various levels of organization within the brain. Hence, we have some idea of how individual neurons signal one another, how groups of neurons may act together to store memories and create perceptions, how brain diseases affect this or that brain region, and how drugs may act to ameliorate brain conditions (or sometimes create addiction). But what we lack, is a general theory of how the brain’s organization and dynamics lead to the phenomena we generally associate with brain: consciousness, creativity, deception and the like.

So that could be a very exciting thing for a discipline (i.e. the most exciting times are yet to come) or very frustrating.

I’m going to argue this evening, that perhaps we can see the vague outlines of what such a general theory might look like.

I’ll post more on this soon.

Jim