The Philosophy of Neuroscience in Practice

embroidered brain hoop art

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).

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