bookmark_borderBreaking Free from Neural Networks and Dynamical Systems

This blog post is written as a dialogue between two imaginary characters, one of them being myself (H) and the other a stubborn straw man (S). It is broken into four parts: the dogma, the insight, the decoy, and the clues. If you do not feel like reading the whole thing, you can skip to part 4; it contains a summary of the other parts.

[image adapted from Song et al. 2016]
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bookmark_borderWhen Biology Isn’t Messy

There is a belief in biology that goes like this: Biology is messy. Nature has no interest in making things easy to understand. So for many scientific questions, there will not be a straight-forward answer.

  • Q: Where and how is a particular memory stored in the brain? A: Biology is messy; memories are distributed all over the brain and stored in many different forms: as molecules and as structure, inside neurons and in the connections between them.
  • Q: How do genes determine the number of fingers per hand? A: Biology is messy; there isn’t a single factor for it. It emerges from the interactions of numerous different genes.

Now it is not always the case that our answers are so unsatisfying. Ask a biologist how the eye works and, well, there are quite a lot of similarities to how cameras work. And living organisms aren’t messy globs of formless flesh. They have an organized body plan, with separate organs, each responsible for specific functions that we can talk about; the heart pumps blood and the lungs pump air.

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