Emphasizing the Science in Neuroscience

Science, in general, is the study of any area of information and knowledge, relying on empirical evidence, yielding a system of principles used to explain and predict operations within the particular field of knowledge. In order for the scientific information to be optimally applied in explaining and predicting a broad range of future observations, the system of principles must be woven together, and regularly refined, into a theory where principles are mutually supported and where accuracy of predictions of operations within the field of information and knowledge is gradually increased.

Simultaneously, the term “science” refers to the procedural methods for obtaining empirical knowledge within a particular domain of study. This usually involves observations and experimental manipulations of variables in order to observe causal consequences. Most areas of science have expanded dramatically as technological and procedural sophistication have advanced. Consequentially, a related field of enquiry in science has been the investigation of the reliability, validity, and interpretive value of measurements produced by increasingly sophisticated technology.* This has created a new challenge within science as many users of the technology are ill-informed about how it was created and how data are produced by it or should be interpreted.

The prefix, neuro-, broadly refers to the biological system of animal cells that relays information from the environment and produces responses to it. This is the “nervous system.” More broadly, the nervous system consists not only of the specific cellular and molecular components that comprise it, but characteristics of interactions with other biological systems, such as the endocrine system, immune system, and virtually, in one way or another, all other components that comprise a life form. The nervous system is the conceptual hub of interacting and dynamical, metabolic functions that sustain life. A “healthy” neurological system is one that, in addition, supports the principles of evolution that optimize and promote survival and reproduction.

The field of scientific study that examines the structures, functions, dynamics, and systematic organization of the nervous system is called “neuroscience.” As such, the field comprises many investigatory paths, from entity details to broad, system-wide structures, functions, dynamics, and systematic organizational characteristics. Many investigatory specialties within neuroscience focus on limited micro scale accumulations of knowledge. Others focus on the broader molar scale, integrating knowledge obtained from micro scale investigations with the aim of producing theories and models that explain and predict neural system dynamics across multiple micro and other molar scale domains.

It is important to possess a crystal-clear concept of “neuroscience” in the precise sense that it conforms to the strictest definition of a science. With the expansive interest in neuroscience, and particularly its purported applicable and predictive value, some popular, or folk, knowledge stemming indirectly from the science has been lacking in scientific scrutiny. While many inferential conclusions of formal neuroscientific studies are accompanied with various caveats (“may,” “could,” “might,”) these caveats tend to be dropped from the inferences, and presented as factual conclusions once they reach the level of folk knowledge (informal, simple, of unknown origin or scientific scrutiny).

Thus, when considering the field of “neuroscience,” educated users of such knowledge must be extra-vigilant to avoid the tendency to slide into mystical or mythical spirit of the times where knowledge becomes narrow fact instead of obligated with multifaceted parameters and boundaries. Intense popular interest in the vast promises of neuroscience must not bypass the strictest of scientific vigilance.

The discipline of neuroscience is popularly linked to concepts such as mind, soul, free will, agency, and so forth. These vague concepts have perpetually been at the forefront of folk psychology. Most people are interested in what drives our mental, emotional, decisional, and judgmental behaviors—in short, aspects of our personalities. As such, people are readily attracted to neural-based explanations of these phenomena. The intuitive dualism that separates brain (body) from mind (person) may drive the tendency to welcome explanation of ephemera (mind or person) in biological tissues (brain or body). Neuroscience—the formal discipline—rests on the monistic approach where mind and person are the reified entities that are, really, the shortcut referents of brain and body dynamics.

The study of neuroscience provides the foundation for garnering scientifically-acquired and scrutinized knowledge. Such knowledge is slowly and carefully woven into theory that must be scrutinized as well for ill-founded inferences, assumptions, interpretations, and technological applications. Such theory so far has been, and will reasonably continue to be, extremely complex. In an attempt to understand and predict complex, and typically reified, psychological phenomena, the shortcuts to folk explanations will be tempting but unquestionably scientifically unacceptable.

*Technology, used herein, refers to electromechanically sophisticated apparatus (such as magnetic resonance imagery), computer grograms that run on and produce data from the apparatus, and statistical and mathematical methods and models for analyzing the meaning of such data.

This entry was posted in General, Neuronews. Bookmark the permalink.