Schinzel and Warnke – Mediation through Computational NeuroScience

Research Project ­– Mediation through Computational NeuroScience 
Britta Schinzel and Martin Warnke 


Brain simulations are extremely far from actual brains and their performance. So how does the medium of computer simulation intervene in the process of understanding within neurosciences?

As the human brain normally is not directly accessible by invasive inspection, computer simulation is used in order to bridge the lack of knowledge about higher biological neural networks. Simulation and modeling in the context of neuroscience uses the theory of dynamic systems. Although it was developed for complex systems in physics, it has also found its way into the life sciences in order to analyze the behavior of complex natural systems, i.e. to represent and understand them in a simplified and standardized manner, to predict their behavior both theoretically and experimentally in comparison to reality.

However, with regard to the brain, the usual procedure is not possible: that a theory leads to a result through simulation, which is then either confirmed or falsified in the classical experiment. This is, because too little is known about the human brain, i.e. there is no theory of neurophysiology. In addition, usually experiments cannot be performed through a living brain but under very limited circumstances in vitro. In computational neuroscience, simulations therefore have a different status: they serve as experimental systems on computer models of the brain.

Experiments on computer models can succeed in simulating meaningfully for small layer sections with sufficiently precise layout assumptions. A theory then is not about the properties of the neuron layer in the brain (neither topographically nor functionally), but about the respective simulation. Various experimental results can be integrated into the computer models, as well as anatomical data, connection probabilities of the structural models, and much more. The simulation here is a description medium with which one can connect and compare findings from different areas and scales: it generates theories. It takes the vacant place of the nonexistent neurophysiological theory, it forms material-semiotic material.

A workshop “Neurological Computer-Simulations” collected well known scientists in the field of Computational NeuroScience, Media Theory, STS, Philosophy of Technology and Gender Studies in Technology. The demanding project investigates in the accessibility of brain sciences through simulation methods, the epistemological meaning of the simulation for scientific investigation of the brain, as well as especially in the media theoretic meaning of the nature of neurological observation through simulation.