The dynamical renaissance in neuroscience

Luis H. Favela
2020 Synthese  
Although there is a substantial philosophical literature on dynamical systems theory in the cognitive sciences, the same is not the case for neuroscience. This paper attempts to motivate increased discussion via a set of overlapping issues. The first aim is primarily historical and is to demonstrate that dynamical systems theory is currently experiencing a renaissance in neuroscience. Although dynamical concepts and methods are becoming increasingly popular in contemporary neuroscience, the
more » ... ral approach should not be viewed as something entirely new to neuroscience. Instead, it is more appropriate to view the current developments as making central again approaches that facilitated some of neuroscience's most significant early achievements, namely, the Hodgkin–Huxley and FitzHugh–Nagumo models. The second aim is primarily critical and defends a version of the "dynamical hypothesis" in neuroscience. Whereas the original version centered on defending a noncomputational and nonrepresentational account of cognition, the version I have in mind is broader and includes both cognition and the neural systems that realize it as well. In view of that, I discuss research on motor control as a paradigmatic example demonstrating that the concepts and methods of dynamical systems theory are increasingly and successfully being applied to neural systems in contemporary neuroscience. More significantly, such applications are motivating a stronger metaphysical claim, that is, understanding neural systems as being dynamical systems, which includes not requiring appeal to representations to explain or understand those phenomena. Taken together, the historical claim and the critical claim demonstrate that the dynamical hypothesis is undergoing a renaissance in contemporary neuroscience.
doi:10.1007/s11229-020-02874-y fatcat:ll2qfn3jdrgzfldb2gutd2vkfe