Interdisciplinary collaboration leads to neurological findings

Gualtiero Piccinini and Sonya Bahar

UMSL philosopher Gualtiero Piccinini and UMSL physicist Sonya Bahar wrote a paper recently published in the journal Cognitive Science. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Collaboration between a physicist and philosopher at the University of Missouri–St. Louis has yielded new neurological insights.

The two scholars authored a paper recently published in Cognitive Science, a major interdisciplinary scientific journal.

“It’s probably the most important paper I’ve ever written,” said Gualtiero Piccinini, associate professor of philosophy, chair of the Department of Philosophy and a member of the Center for Neurodynamics at UMSL. “The paper is the culmination of about 15 years of work.”

Co-author Sonya Bahar is an associate professor of physics and astronomy and director of the Center for Neurodynamics.

The paper is titled “Neutral Computation and the Computational Theory of Cognition.” It makes the argument that neural processes are neither analog nor digital computations, but constitute a third kind of computation.

“Gualtiero and I have been able – I hope! – to clearly show, based on a combination of philosophical and empirical arguments, that neural computation is something uniquely complicated, and certainly not yet fully understood, that is far more complex than simple analog or digital computation,” Bahar said.

She said their findings show that scholars studying how the brain “computes” will have their work cut out for them. Such studies will be immensely challenging and multilayered when considering Bahar and Piccinini’s findings, she said.

The Center for Neurodynamics was founded more than a decade ago. Its mission was to bring people together from different disciplines in order to develop new insights about problems in neuroscience that cross boundaries between fields.

Piccinini said the paper shows the value of the Center and the collaborations it can foster.

“These are indeed exactly the types of interdisciplinary collaborations the Center was designed to foster,” Bahar added. “It has been exciting to begin a collaboration with Gualtiero and to push the interdisciplinary collaborations of the Center in a new direction.”

To read the full article visit onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/cogs.12012/full


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