Séminaire de Alex Gomez
29 octobre 2021
Instituto de Neurociencias de Alicante
titre: 3 ½ ways to study behavior in neuroscience
invité par Anna Montagnini
If the brain is the answer, what was the question ? For an increasing number of neuroscientists, the question is arguably “behavior”. Brains evolved less to think than to move. However, behavior is like pornography : we know when we see it, and yet it defies definition. In addition, and as opposed to virtually any subdiscipline in physics or chemistry (and maybe other parts of biology), in behavioral neuroscience we lack principled theories as to what to measure, and why. It is still much a kind of Wild (Tech) West. Here I will share my thoughts on mapping different styles of studying animal behavior, each betraying their (often covert, sometimes denied) epistemic commitments and theoretical presuppositions, and I will also trace hints of their historical routes and the socio-political forces at play. To give you a glimpse, these are : (0) to ignore behavior completely, like studying the atoms of an iPhone mindless of it being a phone ; (1) to take behavior into account, but as an afterthought, telling grossly misleading stories such as “circuit X plays a key role in behavior Y” ; (2) to treat behavior as a data science problem, with the temptation to be indifferent as to whether the data comes from a mouse or from a house ; (3) to develop ingenious behavioral tasks so that the animal can directly answer our questions, at the peril of hearing our own answers as psychological constructs ; and (½) to search for general principles in biology (refraining from prêt-à-porter theories borrowed from physics), carving new concepts and developing tailor-made mathematics for living organisms.
In sum, in the current era of neuroscientific “promisomics”, hijacked by techno-ideological delusions, it is urgent that we do not fool ourselves about what we understand, what we don’t, and what we won’t. If we do not get behavior right, we will surely get the brain wrong.