The scope and limits of a mechanistic view of computational explanation

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Abstract

An increasing number of philosophers have promoted the idea that mechanism provides a fruitful framework for thinking about the explanatory contributions of computational approaches in cognitive neuroscience. For instance, Piccinini and Bahar (Cogn Sci 37(3):453–488, 2013) have recently argued that neural computation constitutes a sui generis category of physical computation which can play a genuine explanatory role in the context of investigating neural and cognitive processes. The core of their proposal is to conceive of computational explanations in cognitive neuroscience as a subspecies of mechanistic explanations. This paper identifies several challenges facing their mechanistic account and sketches an alternative way of thinking about the epistemic roles of computational approaches used in the study of brain and cognition. Drawing on examples from both low-level and systems-level computational neuroscience, I argue that at least some computational explanations of neural and cognitive processes are partially independent from mechanistic constraints.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3371–3396
Number of pages26
JournalSynthese
Volume192
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 5 Mar 2015

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