The Philosophy of Neuroscience in Practice
Translational cognitive neuroscience (TCN) is an interdisciplinary area of neuroscience that aims to identify the neural bases of cognitive dysfunction in animal models of neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative disease and translate those findings to human patients in the form of effective therapeutic interventions. In order to achieve these aims, translational cognitive neuroscientists combine the use of cognitive assessment tools with cutting-edge neurotechnology and data analysis techniques as well as open science platforms for pre-publication knowledge and data sharing. TCN thus offers a rich and interesting case study for understanding how neuroscience works and identifying the conditions under which experiments, interdisciplinary collaboration and open science practices are successful in advancing scientific knowledge.
Jacqueline Sullivan (Rotman Institute of Philosophy, Western University)
Tim Bussey (Project Collaborator; PI of TCNLab, Western University)
Lisa Saksida (Project Collaborator; PI of TCNLab, Western University)
December 2019 – April 2023
Western Strategic Support for Tri-Council Success Grants (2019-2020)
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Insight Grant (2020-2023)
A primary aim of the philosophy of neuroscience is to understand how neuroscience works. A common strategy is to evaluate methodological and review papers and research studies to develop such understanding. However, this approach sheds little light on the intricate inner workings of the science that occur in the contexts of laboratories, lab meetings, journal clubs, and informal conversations between primary investigators, postdoctoral fellows, and science students working within the same lab or working with researchers in other laboratories. The overarching aim of Dr. Sullivan’s project “The Philosophy of Neuroscience in Practice” is to illuminate these foundational activities by engaging as a participant-observer in a cutting-edge translational cognitive neuroscience laboratory at Western University. This project continues and extends Dr. Sullivan’s previous philosophical work on experimentation (e.g., Sullivan 2009, 2010, 2014, 2015, 2018), classification and natural kinds (e.g., Sullivan 2014, 2016, 2017, Mattu and Sullivan 2020), mental illness (e.g., Kincaid & Sullivan 2009, 2014; Sullivan 2016) and pluralism and unity of science (e.g., Sullivan 2009, 2016, 2017) which historically has focused on psychology, psychiatry and neuroscience (See publication list for references).
Dr. Sullivan’s project aims to address several key questions about translational cognitive neuroscience. First, what kinds of assumptions inform and shape the design of experiments and the interpretation of experimental results in this research area? If problems in designing, running and interpreting the results of experiments arise, what kinds of argumentative or reasoning strategies are used to address hem? What kinds of considerations inform exploratory research and how, if at all, do these differ from those that guide hypothesis-driven research? How does collaborative experimentation and problem-solving work when the scientists involved hail from different research traditions and training backgrounds? Addressing these questions is fundamental for advancing philosophical and scientific understandings of how neuroscience works in practice and such questions can only be adequately answered from the perspective of embedded philosophy of science.
Dr. Sullivan will be using a multipronged methodological approach to address these questions. She will use standard methods common in philosophy of science insofar as she will read existing and forthcoming philosophical literature and literature from other disciplines that is relevant to the project, as well as methodological and review papers and research studies in translational cognitive neuroscience in order to gain an understanding of the history of the field and the current state of the art. To develop more hands-on knowledge, she will combine this traditional approach with an ethnographic approach that is common in social studies of science and recently gaining traction in the philosophy of science. Specifically, she will, in collaboration with a graduate research assistant, actively participate in the life of the lab, observing the development and implementation of experiments, interacting with the primary investigators and other lab members in the contexts of lab meetings, journal clubs and informal meetings. They will also attend all local colloquia, training sessions and workshops related to ongoing research in the laboratory.
Jacqueline Sullivan, Rotman Institute of Philosophy, Western University
Tim Bussey, Translational Cognitive Neuroscience Lab, Western University
Lisa Saskida, Translational Cognitive Neuroscience Lab, Western University
Jaipreet Mattu (2019 – present)
Donya Merza (2019 – 2020)
Articles related to the project that are currently under review:
Jacqueline A. Sullivan, Julie R. Dumont, Sara Memar, Miguel Skirzewski, Jinxia Wan, Maryam H. Mofrad, Hassam Zafar Ansari, Yulong Li, Lyle Muller, Vania F. Prado, Marco A.M. Prado, Lisa M. Saksida, Timothy J. Bussey. New Frontiers in Translational Research: Touchscreens, Open Science, and The Mouse Translational Research Accelerator Platform (MouseTRAP).
Peer-reviewed journal articles related to the project:
Mattu, J. & Sullivan J. (2020). Classification, Kinds, Taxonomic Stability, and Conceptual Change, Aggression and Violent Behavior.
Sullivan, J. (2018). Optogenetics, Pluralism and Progress. Philosophy of Science 85: 1090-1101.
Sullivan, J. (2017). Coordinated Pluralism as a Means to Facilitate Integrative Taxonomies of Cognition. Philosophical Explorations Issue 2: 129-145.
Sullivan, J. (2016). Construct Stabilization and the Unity of the Mind-Brain Sciences. Philosophy of Science 83: 662-673.
Sullivan, J. (2016). Response to Commentary on Stabilizing constructs through collaboration across different research fields as a way to foster the integrative approach of the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) Project. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. fnhum-10-00448.
Sullivan, J. (2016). Stabilizing constructs through collaboration across different research fields as a way to foster the integrative approach of the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) Project. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. fnhum-10-00309-2.
Sullivan, J. (2010). “Reconsidering Spatial Memory and the Morris Water Maze”, Synthese 177(2): 261-283.
Sullivan, J. (2009). “The Multiplicity of Experimental Protocols: A Challenge to Reductionist and Non-Reductionist Models of the Unity of Neuroscience”, Synthese 167:511-539.
Peer-reviewed contributions to edited volumes related to the project:
Sullivan, J. (2017). “Long-term potentiation: One Kind or Many?” in Eppur si muove: Doing History and Philosophy of Science with Peter Machamer. Marcus Adams, Zvi Biener, Uljana Feest and Jackie Sullivan, eds., Springer.
Sullivan, J. (2016). “Neuroscientific Kinds Through the Lens of Scientific Practice” in Natural Kinds and Classification in Scientific Practice, Catherine Kendig (ed.), New York: Routledge, pp. 47-56.
Sullivan, J. (2015). “Experimentation in Cognitive Neuroscience and Cognitive Neurobiology” In The Handbook of Neuroethics (Springer), Jens Clausen and Neil Levy (Eds)., Dordrecht: Springer, pp. 31-47.
Sullivan, J. (2014). “Is the Next Frontier in Neuroscience a Decade of the Mind?” In Brain Theory, Charles Wolfe, Ed.(Palgrave-MacMillan), pp. 45-67.
Kincaid, H. & Sullivan, J. (2014). “Classifying Psychopathology: Mental Kinds and Natural Kinds” (w/Harold Kincaid). In Classifying Psychopathology: Mental Kinds and Natural Kinds, Harold Kincaid and Jacqueline A. Sullivan, Eds. (MIT Press), pp. 1-10.
Sullivan, J. (2014). “Stabilizing Mental Disorders: Prospects and Problems” in Classifying Psychopathology: Mental Kinds and Natural Kinds, Harold Kincaid and Jacqueline A. Sullivan, Eds. (MIT Press), pp. 257-281.
Jaclyn Lanthier (2019)
Nicholas Slothouber (2019)
Frederic-Ismael Banville (2018)
Jessey Wright (2017)
Image credit: Brain Anatomy Hoop Art. Hand Embroidered Wall Decor by Hey Paul Studios – cropped (license)