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The Value of Failure in Science: The Story of Grandmother Cells in Neuroscience

Barwich, Ann-Sophie (2019) The Value of Failure in Science: The Story of Grandmother Cells in Neuroscience. Frontiers in Neuroscience.

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Abstract

The annals of science are filled with successes. Only in footnotes do we hear about the failures, the cul-de-sacs, and the forgotten ideas. Failure is how research advances. Yet it hardly features in theoretical perspectives on science. That is a mistake. Failures, whether clear-cut or ambiguous, are heuristically fruitful in their own right. Thinking about failure questions our measures of success, including the conceptual foundations of current practice, that can only be transient in an experimental context. This article advances the heuristics of failure analysis, meaning the explicit treatment of certain ideas or models as failures. The value of failures qua being a failure is illustrated with the example of grandmother cells; the contested idea of a hypothetical neuron that encodes a highly specific but complex stimulus, such as the image of one’s grandmother. Repeatedly evoked in popular science and maintained in textbooks, there is sufficient reason to critically review the theoretical and empirical background of this idea.


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Item Type: Published Article or Volume
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Barwich, Ann-Sophieas.barwich@gmail.com0000-0003-0123-9366
Keywords: Failure; Pluralism; Sparse Coding; Neuroscience; Hierarchical Coding; Localization; Gnostic Units; History; Unconceived Hypotheses
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology
Specific Sciences > Neuroscience > Cognitive Neuroscience
Specific Sciences > Cognitive Science
General Issues > Explanation
General Issues > History of Science Case Studies
Specific Sciences > Neuroscience
Specific Sciences > Cognitive Science > Perception
Specific Sciences > Psychology
General Issues > Theory/Observation
Depositing User: Dr. Ann-Sophie Barwich
Date Deposited: 25 Oct 2019 04:09
Last Modified: 25 Oct 2019 04:09
Item ID: 16579
Journal or Publication Title: Frontiers in Neuroscience
Official URL: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnins...
DOI or Unique Handle: https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2019.01121
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology
Specific Sciences > Neuroscience > Cognitive Neuroscience
Specific Sciences > Cognitive Science
General Issues > Explanation
General Issues > History of Science Case Studies
Specific Sciences > Neuroscience
Specific Sciences > Cognitive Science > Perception
Specific Sciences > Psychology
General Issues > Theory/Observation
Date: 24 October 2019
URI: http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/id/eprint/16579

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