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Brains and theories of cognition

Gary Jasdzewski garyjaz at globaleyes.net
Fri Oct 23 01:59:17 EST 1998

I am doing some research on the intersection of neuroscience and second
language acquisition.  I'v become interested in knowing why anyone
interested in cognition should pay attention to research in the
neurosciences.  Some reasons that I've run across include the following:

a.)  Most of the knowledge we are discovering about the brain and language
comes from neuroimaging techniques.  To understand how these techniques
work it is necessary to have some understanding of the smaller levels of
the brain.

b.) These techniques have improved to the point where they can be useful
in the testing of the validity of theoretical claims.

c.) Learning anything like a second language involves changes in the
microanatomical structure of the brain.  Hence to understand learning we
need to look at the smaller levels of the brain.  A potentially practical
application of this pursuit is that it will lead to better the design of
better learning environments that are suited to our computational

d.) Finally, a neuroscientific perspective can impose constraints on the
shape of a theory by requiring that it be neurally plausible.

I have a question about reason b.  Exactly how can a picture of a brain
test the validity of some theory?  Can someone give me an example from any

Also, I have a question about reason d.  Can someone give me an example of
a theory of some aspect of cognition (like vision or language, etc.) that
is neurally plausible and one that is not?

It seems to me that many of the authors I encounter assume that knowledge
of the brain is a good thing, and they don't develop reasons why this is
so.  Please email me if you would like a clarification about something
I've written.

gary jasdzewski
 gary at siu.edu

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