link to homepage

Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine

Navigation and service

Representation and Modelling

The prospects of success for neuroscientific research into mental processes depend in part on the underlying models of  the structure and of the  function of mental states and on the hypotheses concerning the interaction between mental states and neural processes. Such hypotheses are primarily formulated by psychologists and philosophers. In this research field, their findings are subjected to a methodological investigation; they are tested with respect to their verifiability using neuroscientific methods and may undergo such a verification process.

Philosophy of mind discusses modular, atomic and holistic models of the structure of what is mental that to a large extent overlap with corresponding neuroscientific models of the architecture of neural structures. A representation of these models and the associated testing methods would greatly enhance modelling in the two disciplines and would also make it more amenable to experimental verification. Epistemological research will focus on the analysis of assumptions and methods forming the basis for the development of functional models of the human brain and imaging methods.

Functional neuroimaging can be used to identify the correlations between certain neural processes and the corresponding mental phenomena. Research studies undertaken in recent years in this field have targeted a wide range of mental phenomena, from purely sensory experiences all the way to complex cognitive and emotional processes. To date, however, very few of the correlations mentioned above have been completely deciphered. A particular problem involves the fact that of the correlations identified, no specific thought-related, intentional or emotional content has been determined so far.

As yet there is no interpretation of the above-mentioned findings on correlations that does justice to the phenomena, especially with regard to the relationship between empirically described neural events and subjectively perceived conscious experiences. Here, the widespread concept of the representation of phenomenal events at the neural level provides - per se - an unspecific basis for interpretation. This concept initially serves merely to confirm that a certain correlation exists between the neural and phenomenal sector. However, it fails to explain the more exact nature of the representation of the phenomenal aspects contained in what is considered to be "neural". The semantics of the concept of representation do, however, allow specifications to be drawn that promise to describe the relationship between the neural and phenomenal level in more concrete terms. This is particularly true when the "representation" at the neural level is not primarily related to specific mental content but rather to cognitive content and mechanisms. The relevant basis is then not the representation, for example, by a neural event of a state of conviction that is perceived but rather a representation of objective interrelations by the brain.

Conference Report
Representation, model and metaphor: Understanding and explaining in neuroscience
Bonn, October 31st, 2014