PhilSci Archive

Getting over Atomism: Functional Decomposition in Complex Neural Systems

Burnston, Daniel C. (2019) Getting over Atomism: Functional Decomposition in Complex Neural Systems. [Preprint]

[img]
Preview
Text
Getting over Atomism_bjps_FINAL_.pdf

Download (1MB) | Preview

Abstract

Functional decomposition is an important goal in the life sciences, and is central to mechanistic explanation and explanatory reduction. A growing literature in philosophy of science, however, has challenged decomposition-based notions of explanation. ‘Holists’ posit that complex systems exhibit context-sensitivity, dynamic interaction, and network dependence, and that these properties undermine decomposition. They then infer from the failure of decomposition to the failure of mechanistic explanation and reduction. I argue that complexity, so construed, is only incompatible with one notion of decomposition, which I call ‘atomism’, and not with decomposition writ large. Atomism posits that function ascriptions must be made to parts with minimal reference to the surrounding system. Complexity does indeed falsify atomism, but I contend that there is a weaker, ‘contextualist’ notion of decomposition that is fully compatible with the properties that holists cite. Contextualism suggests that the function of parts can shift with external context, and that interactions with other parts might help determine their context-appropriate functions. This still admits of functional decomposition within a given context. I will give examples based on the notion of oscillatory multiplexing in systems neuroscience. If contextualism is feasible, then holist inferences are faulty—one cannot infer from the presence of complexity to the failure of decomposition, mechanism, and reductionism.


Export/Citation: EndNote | BibTeX | Dublin Core | ASCII/Text Citation (Chicago) | HTML Citation | OpenURL
Social Networking:
Share |

Item Type: Preprint
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Burnston, Daniel C.dburnsto@tulane.edu
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology
Specific Sciences > Cognitive Science
General Issues > Explanation
Specific Sciences > Neuroscience
General Issues > Reductionism/Holism
General Issues > Structure of Theories
Specific Sciences > Neuroscience > Systems Neuroscience
Depositing User: Dr. Daniel Burnston
Date Deposited: 17 Sep 2019 15:05
Last Modified: 17 Sep 2019 15:05
Item ID: 16435
DOI or Unique Handle: https://doi.org/10.1093/bjps/axz039
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology
Specific Sciences > Cognitive Science
General Issues > Explanation
Specific Sciences > Neuroscience
General Issues > Reductionism/Holism
General Issues > Structure of Theories
Specific Sciences > Neuroscience > Systems Neuroscience
Date: 16 September 2019
URI: https://philsci-archive-dev.library.pitt.edu/id/eprint/16435

Monthly Views for the past 3 years

Monthly Downloads for the past 3 years

Plum Analytics

Altmetric.com

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item