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What is computational neuroscience? (XXII) The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

In this post, I want to come back on methodological reductionism, the idea that the right way, or the only way, to understand the whole is to understand the elements that compose it. A classical rebuttal of methodological reductionism is that the “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” (Aristotle). I feel that [...]

What is computational neuroscience? (XXI) Lewis Carroll and Norbert Wiener on detailed models

The last published novel of Lewis Carroll, Sylvie and Bruno (1893 for the second volume), contains a passage that explains that a high level of detail is not necessarily what you want from a model. I quote it in full:

“What a useful thing a pocket-map is!” I remarked.

“That’s another thing we’ve learned from [...]

Subjective physics

I just finished writing a text about « subjective physics »: a term I made up to designate the description of the laws that govern sensory signals and their relationships with actions. It is relevant to systems computational neuroscience, embodiment theories and psychological theories of perception (in particular Gibson’s ecological theory and the sensorimotor theory). Here is [...]

What is computational neuroscience? (XX) What is a realistic model?

What is a realistic neuron model? There is a hierarchy among neuron models, which goes like this: least realistic model is the integrate-and-fire model, which is phenomenological; then the single-compartment Hodgkin-Huxley model; then multicompartmental Hodgkin-Huxley models (this hierarchy is questioned by a recently accepted paper that I wrote, but I will discuss it when the [...]

What is sound? (XVI) On the spatial character of tones

An intriguing fact about the pitch of tones is that we tend to describe it using spatial characteristics such as “high” and “low”. In the same way, we speak of a rising intonation when the pitch increases. A sequence of notes with increasing frequency played on a piano scale is described as going “up” (even [...]

What is computational neuroscience? (XIX) Does the brain process information?

A general phrase that one reads very often about the brain in the context of perception is that it “processes information”. I have already discussed the term “information”, which is ambiguous and misleading. But here I want to discuss the term “process”. Is it true that the brain is in the business of “information processing”?

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Psychology of academic hiring committees (VII): more halo effect and conclusion

Perhaps the most striking example of the halo effect that I have noticed is the weight given to very high-impact journals (say Nature). Most scientists I know would love to publish in such journals, because of the visibility and prestige, and because they know it helps their career (for example to get grants). But [...]

Psychology of academic hiring committees (VI): The oral presentation and interview

 This part will illustrate two psychological biases, known as the illusion of validity and the halo effect. For research and university positions in France, the candidate must provide a written application (CV, project, description of previous work) and must also give an oral presentation and answer questions. The oral presentation is generally 5-15 minutes, [...]

Psychology of academic hiring committees (V): Cognitive dissonance

It turns out that such criteria, based on the current employment status of the candidates, are also not legal according to French law. Public hiring must be based on criteria that are directly relevant to the position. Factors such as sex or race are obviously illegal, but any other criterion irrelevant to the advertised [...]

The psychology of academic hiring committees (IV) Attribute susbtitution: how much does the candidate/lab/field need the position?

Even though experience is only a substitute for the attribute that is supposed to be evaluated in hiring decisions, there is at least some correlation between the two attributes, or at least in some cases (like number of publications). More troubling are the following criteria which have little to do with the target attribute:

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