Causation & Computation in Neuroscience

About the project

Causation and Computation in Neuroscience is a 3-year research project funded by the German-Israel Foundation for Scientific Research and Development within the GIF regular program. From January 2015 until December 2017, Vera Hoffmann-Kolss (Cologne, Germany), Oron Shagrir (Jerusalem, Israel) and Jens Harbecke (Witten/Herdecke University) are cooperating within the research project on "Causation and Computation in Neuroscience". This project will involve three co-supervised PhD-projects, regular meetings, and three joint conferences.




The philosophy of cognitive neuroscience is one of the most vividly debated areas of contemporary philosophy of science. A question that has attracted much attention, especially in the past ten years, is how we should understand the various kinds of “level” distinctions occurring in theories of neuroscientific explanation.

The aim of this project is to make sense of the various notions of levels in cognitive neuroscience with a two-fold focus on levels of computation on the one hand, and on causality within mechanistic levels frameworks on the other. In the past, the interconnections between debates about the nature of computation and discussions of the metaphysics of causation within multi-level frameworks have not been systematically explored. We seek to fill this gap by providing a comprehensive study of the properties of the various levels taxonomies, of their interconnections, and of the metaphysical commitments they carry notably through claims about the causal relevance of higher-level (e.g., computational) properties.

Alan Turing

Our method will consist in a combination of tools from philosophical analysis, of Bayesian reasoning techniques, and reconstructions of successful neuroscientific and computational explanations of cognitive phenomena. The results of this project will make a substantial contribution to ongoing debates in the philosophy of cognitive neuroscience by providing a comprehensive analysis of notions that have not been systematically connected in the literature. Moreover, it will be relevant for ongoing research in cognitive neuroscience as its results will help to clarify and sharpen the conceptual foundations of the explanatory practice in this expanding discipline.