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Query: Dendritic Networks

Paul Bush paul at phy.ucsf.edu
Mon Feb 19 14:47:18 EST 1996

In article <52009.robin073 at maroon.tc.umn.edu>, "Alan J. Robinson" <robin073 at maroon.tc.umn.edu> writes:

|> This relates to the problems associated with theoretical 
|> physical-mathematical model building, which has been one of the most 
|> important, and in some ways the most disastrous development in 20th 
|> century science.  
|> This type of model building, especially using a computer, is most 
|> closely associated with John von Neumann, a strong contender 
|> for the most powerful intellect of all time.  It is therefore 
|> surprising that von Neumann did not realize that almost all these 
|> models exhibit chaotic behavior through numerical instability and 
|> sensititivity to initial conditions, quite apart from the 
|> approximations that have to be used (contrary to popular opinion, 
|> physics is NOT an exact science.)

I wouldn't say that "almost all these models exhibit chaotic behavior 
through numerical instability and sensititivity to initial conditions". Maybe
some of them do, but there are effective techniques for modelling that can
overcome these problems, at least in my field. However, I agree that "the
approximations that have to be used" or lack of constraining data is the single
biggest problem facing model builders in neuroscience.

|> Can such models still be useful?  yes!  BUT YOU HAVE TO KNOW WHAT 
|> is why it is so important that such models ONLY be built by those 
|> who have some formal and practical background in the subject 
|> discipline.  A general scientific education coupled with a brief 
|> literature survey is NOT a sufficient qualification for model 
|> building or even making public statements about the brain and 
|> human behavior.

I definitely agree with this.

|> What I find really surprising is that this rule is repeatedly violated 
|> by some scientists at the world's most prestigious universities such 
|> as Oxford and Harvard, who should know better and set an example to 
|> the rest of the world.

They are only human, and subject to the same pressures as the rest of us. In the
past, you had to invent calculus or something to become famous and influential.
Now, anyone who publishes sucessful/trendy work will have a platform to expound 
on their wacky theories, even if they are outside their field of expertise.


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