The Neuroheuristic Paradigm

The biological laws of neuroscience developed in the nineteenth and twentieth century, as well as the construction of mathematical axioms, were derived from observations and pertaining to a priori knowledge. If, however, the observation is

Fig. 1 Redrawing that partially reproduces a diagram of the brain (fourteenth century) illustrated on parchment illumination (University Library, Cambridge)

exclusively and stringently applied to the description, the observation becomes reductive. Since the application of scientific protocols to the investigation of how the brain works, it appeared that the dynamic relations between memory and sen-sorimotor activity could reveal abrupt reorganizations of information, characterised by a temporal dimension other than the one attributed by the slant of classical mechanisms. As queried by the mathematician Hadamard about his own mental experience, Einstein replied that words and language, written or spoken, did not seem to play the least role in the mechanism of his thoughts (Hadamard, 1952). The psychic entities which serve as elements of thought are symbolic images, more or less decipherable, which can be reproduced or combined at will. This process evolves necessarily from the rupture of the temporal constraint, and appears similar to the aesthetic approach as a method of recognition. A single quantitative measurement becomes unable to determine an axis of congruity and paradigms other than the classical ones should be considered for a scientific interpretation of the results, following a process likewise the introduction of the superstring theory with respect to the standard model.

The information processing effected by the brain appears then as a result of accordance between Nature ('bottom-up') and Nurture ('top-down'). Research strategy based on the 'bottom-up' information flow, the preferred view by neuro-biologists, seems potentially necessary and sufficient; however, it is not wholly viable to actual experimentation considering the impossibility of simultaneously examining, even in a primitive species, all cellular elements of the brain and all variables that affect those elements. The 'top-down' strategy, with the assistance of 'dark boxes', is easier to bring to fulfillment but insufficient and irrelevant in understanding the mechanisms that coordinate the local networks of cellular elements. It seems, therefore, that a fusion of the 'bottom-up' and 'top-down' mechanisms is needed, leading to a distinct approach to the Neurosciences. Let us call it Neuroheuristics, or Neuristics, from the Greek neuron (nerve) and heuriskein (to find, to discover). Its definition corresponds to that branch of Science aimed at exploring the assumptions of the Neurosciences through an ongoing process, continuously renewed at each successive step of the advancement, towards understanding the brain in its entirety (Taylor and Villa, 2001).

In this framework, the 'result' cannot be simply positive or negative because the process itself cannot be reduced to proficiency as such. The accent here is on the dynamic and non-reducible characteristics of this approach. It is important at this point to make a distinction from Bergson's (1917) psychophysical interac-tionism. In Bergson's perspective the transition to a successive stage is dependent upon the vital impulse which appears at each stage. Therefore, it is the vital impulse which is the activating agent of transition between the stages. In our perspective, the change occurs when an essentially new and unexpected combination develops from preexisting properties. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, such an approach can reap benefits from the new sciences and technologies which promote the emergence of new concepts; molecular biological studies and computer science can be an integral and crucial extension to the field of Neuroscience.

The emergent process of Neuroeuristics is accompanied by a perceptive jump (Gestalt switch). The analogy between the abstract levels of organisation in the computer and in the brain encompasses the fundamental observation that computer programming represents a deliberate mock-up, or artificial imitation, of human intellectual activity. In reviewing hypotheses, which are destined to be out of date, the neuroheuristic perspective differs from the greater portion of cognitive studies. The Neurosciences have made only a minor contribution to the knowledge of the biological substrates of creativeness, despite progress made in comprehension of the neurobiological basis of perception, training, and memory by animal experimentation. The cognitive sciences, however, faced the problem originated in the brain to separate declarative knowledge ('know what') from procedural knowledge ('know-how'). In this respect, it is undeniable that the cognitive sciences have benefited from its interchange with the field of artificial intelligence. In our view, intellectual activity cannot be reduced to its computational dimension. We subscribe to the synergy of information processing and

Neurosciences. Such kind of synergistic process is not peculiar of our times and it follows several fundamental historical facts.

In 1753-1755, the Bernese physiologist Albrecht von Haller (1708-1777) published an essay, the 'Dissertation on the Irritable and Sensitive Parts of Animals' (original title: De partium corporis humani sensibilius et irritabilus). This work was based on numerous experiments of vivisection and on stimulation of organs using the new knowledge offered to physiology by physics, chemistry, and natural history. With a rudimentary technique of stimulation, Von Haller classified the parts in irritable, sensible, or elastic and noted that the reactions varied between different parts of the brain. The historical importance of the work by Von Haller is not so much related to the results obtained, but rather in systematically applying the new technologies with a scientific protocol (Brazier, 1984). This approach resulted in a turnabout in the university environment of the eighteenth century. With the introduction of currents of Galvanic fluids into the brain, a powerful new tool of investigation developed at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century. The use of electricity was not strictly limited to its instrumental character, which was at the basis of electrophysiology, but rather the proper characteristics of propagation and generation of this type of energy became the basis of fertile hypotheses. Inspired by Von Haller and by the works of his compatriot Malacarne, Luigi Rolando, the Piedmontese physician, added a fundamental contribution to the succession of the naturalistic descriptive paradigm which was adopted thus far. Supported by the work of Alessandro Volta, Rolando was struck by the analogy between electric devices and the structure of the cerebellum to which he assigned a role in locomotion. In addition, Rolando was able to discern regularities in the morphology of the cerebral cortex and could establish relations between its parts while tracing the map and assigning them a name. Rolando's research was based on the metaphysical assumption that brain organisation had necessarily to be submissive to constant and recognizable laws (Rolando, 1809). His criticisms directed against the organology concepts of Gall, then diffused throughout the Occidental world, were not at all dictated by a priori concepts. Rolando did not underestimate these anatomical studies, but he denounced on several occasions the absence of objective evidence for distinct organs to the tens of mental functions identified by the phrenologists.

Plotinus (204-270), the great philosopher and founder of the Neo-Platonism, developed a unique theory of sense perception and knowledge, based on the idea that the mind plays an active role in shaping or ordering the objects of its perception, rather than passively receiving the data of sense experience. In this sense, Plotinus may be said to have anticipated the medieval insights and even the phenomenological theories of nineteenth and twentieth century (Gerson, 2005). However, the heuristic paradigm of Von Haller-Rolando did not develop further in the neuroscientifics of the nineteenth century, which possibly explains the conceptual delay taken by biomedical research in Neurosciences with regard to mathematics and to physics and chemistry. In the 1940s, the confrontation between the Neurosciences and the Theory of Communication by Shannon and Weaver led to the emergence of the cybernetic movement (Shannon, 1948). There is an analogy between what occurred 200 years ago with the initiation of electricity and technology and the situation of today in which the Neurosciences are confronted with Computer and Information Sciences. In the Enneads, Plotinus states that the knowledge of the One is achieved through the experience of its 'power' (dynamis) and its nature, which is to provide a 'foundation' (arkhe) and 'location' (topos) for all existents. In the neuroheuristic paradigm the term One could be replaced by complexity and experience replaced by scientifically testable hypotheses.

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