Philosophy, Psychology and Neuroscience

Perspectives on the Motor Cortex

The mainstream theory of the motor cortex is a computational and representational one, which has had some success in the design of “decoding algorithms” which infer intended movements from the brains of quadriplegic patients for the control of prosthetic limbs, but faces an ongoing problem of resolving the question of whether neurons in this region represent patterns of muscle activation or other movement parameters such as limb velocity. Shenoy, Sahani and Churchland (2013) have argued that the representational theory should be replaced with a dynamical systems theory (DST) alternative, and that this framework can usefully be employed in neuro-prosethetic technologies. The debate between proponents of the representational theory and DST are of course on-going and I intend to remain neutral on it. In this talk I argue that perspectivism is a useful framework for understanding what is at stake in the dispute. I will consider whether these two perspectives on the motor cortex are in some respects complementary. If so, I ask, is the best methodological strategy for neuroscientists to alternate between these two broad theories, developing models in either framework, depending on the particular properties of the system that they wish to investigate, or their technological goals? And does perspectivism offer a way of interpreting these models which is both non-literal and also more substantial than an as if or instrumental interpretation?