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Authors: Anderson, Michael L.
Title: Beyond componential constitution in the brain : starburst amacrine cells and enabling constraints
Online publication date: 24-Oct-2016
Language: english
Abstract: Componential mechanism (Craver 2008) is an increasingly influential framework for understanding the norms of good explanation in neuroscience and beyond. Componential mechanism “construes explanation as a matter of decomposing systems into their parts and showing how those parts are organized together in such a way as to exhibit the explanandum phenomenon” (Craver 2008, p. 109). Although this clearly describes some instances of successful explanation, I argue here that as currently formulated the framework is too narrow to capture the full range of good mechanistic explanations in the neurosciences. The centerpiece of this essay is a case study of Starburst Amacrine Cells —a type of motion-sensitive cell in mammalian retina —for which function emerges from structure in a way that appears to violate the conditions specified by componential mechanism as currently conceived. I argue that the case of Starburst Amacrine Cells should move us to replace the notion of mechanistic componential constitution with a more general notion of enabling constraint. Introducing enabling constraints as a conceptual tool will allow us to capture and appropriately characterize a wider class of structure-function relationships in the brain and elsewhere.
DDC: 100 Philosophie
100 Philosophy
Institution: Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
Department: FB 05 Philosophie und Philologie
Place: Mainz
URN: urn:nbn:de:hebis:77-publ-550078
Version: Published version
Publication type: Buchbeitrag
License: in Copyright
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Citation: Open MIND
Metzinger, Thomas
Pages or article number: Kap. 1(T)
Publisher: MIND Group
Publisher place: Frankfurt am Main
Issue date: 2015
Publisher URL:
Publisher DOI: 10.15502/9783958570429
Appears in collections:JGU-Publikationen

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