I ain’t an old-timer here. And it’s been a relatively short time since I began to study neurology. But from the onset I’ve been interested in some comparative studies and the evolutionary side of the matter.
What’s at stake here however is not simply to get a little deeper in our understanding, using evo studies… it is clearly rethinking a number of fundamental assumptions about cognitive models.
That author proposes that the usual division of concerns : Perception-Cognition-Action subtending most of our thoughts about brain functionality is not a valid cut after all. And that by studying the evo, we may get a far better insight on the “good” questions of whys and whats and hows.
In this paper, you’d find lots of references to researchers with interesting… kinda… ahem… “subversive viewpoints”… on a lot of how we come to approach neurology itself.
Mind you, I asked myself if I was attracted to them by the very fact that they challenge common assumptions, and that it caters to my internal hooligan… but I’m pretty sure they do have a point in the end.
A few example thoughts, maybe? to illustrate what I’m after…
Brain theorists often discuss what has come to be known as the “binding problem”.
Neurophysiological experiments have shown that different, and often very distant brain systems specialize in different aspects of perceptual analysis and behavioral guidance. Given such divergence of information, how is this information ultimately integrated into a coherent unambiguous whole?
Many different kinds of binding problems appear to exist. These may be classified into “within-system” binding and “cross-system” binding.
It is certainly plausible that distributed representations in the cerebral cortex are unified through a general mechanism for solving the binding problem. Perhaps this mechanism involves temporal synchrony, perhaps it involves complicated anatomical connections, perhaps it’s something else altogether. However, it is also possible that different kinds of binding problems are resolved with different mechanisms, each dependent upon the requirements of the behavioral task at hand. Furthermore, it is possible that some of these behavioral tasks do not require independent representations to be bound at all.
Paul Cisek in “Binding Through the Fovea: A Tale of Perception in the Service of Action”
Seeing does not require compensating for the effects produced by eye shifts in order to ensure accurate accumulation of partial views into a composite patchwork projected on some internal screen. There is no need to recreate another world inside the head in order for it to be seen.
J. Kevin O’Regan in “A sensorimotor account of vision and visual consciousness”
“Everyone knows what attention is” (James, 1890) is one of the most popular quotes from William James and certainly the most famous statement about human attention. We argue, however, that the overuse and popularity of this statement in cognitive research has been detrimental to progress – that in fact, no one knows what attention is. More specifically, we argue that the concept of “attention” is one of the most misleading and misused terms in the cognitive sciences. In the present paper, we stake the position that the term “attention” should be abandoned and the nature of the research in this area be re-conceptualized to focus on the subsets of processes and mechanisms that lead to task-specific performance.
Bernhard Hommel in “No one knows what attention is // Time for action: Reaching for a better understanding of the dynamics of cognition”
However, the neural coding metaphor is used more broadly, in ways that are less obviously related to communication problems. For example, neurons in the primary visual cortex encode the orientation of bars in their firing rate; neurons in the auditory brainstem encode the spatial position of sounds, and neurons in the hippocampus encode the animal’s location. The coding metaphor applies to these situations in the sense that there is a correspondence between neural activity and some measurable property. In this sense, the metaphor applies equally well to any situation where two measurable properties co-vary. But as the linguists Lakoff and Johnson (2008) have argued, the metaphors that pervade our language are not neutral; on the contrary, they form the architecture of our conceptual system. For example, seeing the heart as a pump is quite different from seeing it as an information processing device encoding walking speed in its beat rate, two equally applicable metaphors. Is perception a communication problem? And if so, with whom?
Romain Brette in “Is coding a relevant metaphor for the brain?”
the task of mapping the concepts of Fig. 1 to neural data has proven difficult. The neural correlates of putatively unified functions, such as “working memory” or “decision making”, appear to be distributed throughout the brain, whereas other concepts that one might expect to be separate, such as “attention” and “intention”, are often intermixed in single regions, sometimes even at the level of single cells (Cisek & Kalaska, 2010). The bridge between psychological concepts and neurophysiological mechanisms is difficult to establish, leading to proposals that many of the questions being asked are perhaps not ideally framed
Paul Cisek in “Resynthesizing behavior through phylogenetic refinement”