Fourth International School On Mind, Brain And Education

2009, August 1-5

Educational Neurosciences
and Ethics

Directors: Antonio M. Battro and Kurt W. Fischer
Program officer: María Lourdes Majdalani

Abstract: Leslie Smith
University of Stirling, Scotland. UK

What can computational neuroscience bring to the Mind/Brain science and ethics issue?
Computational neuroscience is the study of computational models of neural systems: the aim is to understand these systems (or rather, some aspects of these systems) through modelling using computers. Computational neuroscientists often see themselves as integrating the many different types of knowledge that experimental and clinical neuroscientists produce: from the ionic and molecular levels, through the cellular level up to the neural “circuit” and nucleus or column level, even up to whole brain regions or whole brains (generally of simpler animals). The complexity of the elements of these models used is usually inversely proportional to the size of the brain structure being simulated. An integrative understanding of the neural bases of behaviour and cognition is clearly critical for mind/brain science. Modelling neural systems using computers does not mean equating neural systems and computers: computers are powerful modelling systems, and the effort of building appropriate models often shows up the very large differences between computers and neural systems. These differences show up at all levels: from the underlying active elements, to the nature of development and adaptivity, to questions of engineering versus growth. Nonetheless, computational neuroscience models can provide insights into both normal and pathological function, and may be able to provide insight into some of the deeper questions of ethics and education.