Large-Scale Simulations of the Brain: Is There a “Right” Level of Detail?
A number of research projects have recently taken up the challenge of formulating large-scale models of brain mechanisms at unprecedented levels of detail. These research enterprises have raised lively debates in the press and in the scientific and philosophical literature, some of them revolving around the question whether the incorporation of so many details in a theoretical model and in a computer simulations of it is really needed for the model to be explanatory. Is there a “right” level of detail? In this article I analyse the claim, made by two leading neuroscientists, according to which the content of the why-question addressed and the amount of computational resources available constrains the choice of the most appropriate level of detail in brain modelling. Based on the recent philosophical literature on (neuro)scientific explanation, I distinguish between two kinds of details, called here mechanistic decomposition and property details, and argue that the nature of the why-question provides only partial constraints to the choice of the most appropriate level of detail under the two interpretations of the term considered here.
KeywordsNeuroscience Computer simulation Neural modeling Brain project Mechanistic decomposition Levels of analysis
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