Behavioral Neuroscience: The Path Forward
In his classical dissertation on scientific paradigms, eminent philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn describes the difficulty in understanding social influences that skew science theory.1 Popular behavioral neuroscience theory is a classical paradigm; it is a complete world view that is supported by terms with interrelated connotations and contexts that reinforce the status quo. Scientific paradigms are homogeneous; it is difficult to recognize a false assumption of a paradigm from within. In the arduous challenge (and valiant effort) to understand our behavior, it is far easier to theorize about behavior science and neuroscience and their relationship than to theorize about theoretical problems underlying the established paradigm. Eminent philosopher of science Karl Popper understood the difficulty of identifying false assumptions when he advocated the accepted Philosophy of Science principle of “falsifiability.”2 Philosophy of Science advocates that real science theories can be differentiated from ad hoc theories by falsifying them — explaining how to disprove them. The process of describing how to disprove a theory identifies assumptions that are potential sources of error. Unfortunately, the admirable endeavor to understand behavioral neuroscience has not been falsified to identify assumptions of the prevailing paradigm for critical consideration.
Behavioral neuroscience investigates complex principles of molecular neuroscience, cellular neuroscience, and systems neuroscience while the philosophy of informing sciences implores consideration of simple principles of tissue neuroscience and systems neuroscience. Scientific logic, the philosophy of science, a philosophy of natural science, and the philosophy of physiology beg for consideration of simple binary tissue neuroscience. The philosophy of a science is the science’s most fundamental principle; it defines and frames a science with an unprovable underlying assumption. An anomaly of the philosophy of a science taints all of the science that is built upon it; as information technologists advocate, “garbage in, garbage out.”3 In the following three sections, this thesis addresses scientific anomalies hidden deep in the foundation of the current behavioral neuroscience paradigm. The following sections advocate that popular neuroscience theory contradicts: 1) basic science logic when it assumes complex brain principles and ignores simple binary science, 2) the philosophy of (general) science and a philosophy of natural science when it assumes complex brain principles and ignores simple binary science, and 3) the philosophy of physiology when it ignores tissue neurophysiology — the function of whole nervous tissues and their interaction. Basic science logic and accepted science tenets implore consideration of beautifully simple binary tissue neuroscience to understand behavioral neuroscience.
First, popular behavioral neuroscience investigations contradict basic science logic while they continue a long tradition of assuming complex brain principles while brain principles are unknown. Full stop.
Moreover, popular neuroscience investigations continue to contradict basic science logic while they assume complex brain principles while modeling the brain with computers that operate on the simple principle of binary science. Again, full stop.
It may appear that simple brain principles would be obvious to scholars but appearances are often deceiving. It is extremely difficult to reverse-engineer a system that produces a complex product based on a simple principle especially when the simple principle is not sought.
The first sentence of the recent PBS series on the brain (The Brain with David Eagleman) advocates the common assumption of complex brain principles but scientific logic demands consideration of gloriously simple binary neuroscience.
Second, besides contradicting scientific logic, behavioral neuroscience investigations also continue to contradict the philosophy of science and a philosophy of natural science when assuming complex brain principles and ignoring simple binary neuroscience. All science theory is based on the principle of parsimony — Occam’s razor: “All other things being equal, simpler theories are better science”, or more accurately, “Fewer assumptions make better science.” Unfortunately, accepted neuroscience investigations are comfortable with increasing complexity and a related increase in unidentified assumptions; parsimony and falsifiability are not considerations. Popular behavioral neuroscience research contradicts the philosophy of science while embracing complexity and failing to consider beautifully simple binary neuroscience.
Besides contradicting the philosophy of science while assuming complex brain principles, neuroscience investigations similarly contradict a philosophy of natural science. The philosophy of natural science advocates that our environment is best understood with a singular focus on the natural (physical) world, but there is a secondary philosophy of natural science. Our most eminent natural scientists (Einstein, Brian Greene, Steven Weinberg, Walter Lewin) also advocate that human nature is based on eloquently simple principles that are hidden beneath an appearance of complexity.4 Natural scientists contend that simple principles produce the complex manifestations of nature including human nature (binary neuroscience beyond binary neurons). One hundred trillion neural connections produce complex thinking and complex behavior but do not prove a complex brain principle. Moreover, only simple brain principles promote the natural science requisite of “functional resilience” (proper operation over time); consistently, maintenance engineers advocate simple engineering with the mantra (acronym) “KISS”: “Keep it simple, stupid!” Eminent natural scientists advocate simple brain principles; assuming complex brain principles and ignoring gloriously simple binary science is pseudo natural science.
Regardless of a long, painful history of problematic oversimplification in science, it is unscientific to assume that only complex brain principles can produce complex thinking and complex behavior. The philosophy of science and a philosophy of natural science implore consideration of a simple principle of binary neuroscience.
Third, besides contradicting basic science logic, the philosophy of science and a philosophy of natural science, popular behavioral neuroscience investigations also contradict the philosophy of physiology when addressing molecular neuroscience, cellular neuroscience and complex systems neuroscience rather than whole nervous tissues and simple systems neuroscience. Considering the physiology of simple systems neuroscience and entire nervous tissues (and their interaction) may seem confusingly abstract compared to finite or abstract investigations but the philosophy of physiology implores the focus. The philosophy of physiology explains organisms at different organizational levels of the body with each organizational level explaining the entire organism. Anatomy and physiology texts explain humans at different organizational levels of descending sizes and ascending complexity; they explain organisms at organizational levels of body systems, tissues, cells, and molecules.5 Physiology texts explain organs with body systems, explain body systems (including organs) with tissue physiology, explain tissue physiology with cellular physiology, and explain cellular physiology (theoretically) with molecular physiology. The philosophy of physiology completely explains organisms at different organizational levels and explains organs with the organizational levels of body systems (or “organ systems”) and tissues.
Physiologists investigate organisms at different organizational levels of the body and explain the function of all organs at the largest level — the level of body systems (organ systems). The nervous system at the organizational level of body systems is “systems neuroscience.” Consistently, physiology explains systems neuroscience (the brain at the organizational level of body systems) as: the brain receives information about the environment through the peripheral nervous system, processes the information, and sends related information back through the peripheral nervous system to affect behavior towards species survival. Current theory seeks to explain a complex systems neuroscience while physiology explains systems neuroscience with simplicity. Physiology investigates the human organism at different organizational levels and can explain all organs of the body at the largest organizational level of body systems.
Besides explaining all organs of the human body at the organizational level of body systems, physiologists can also explain all organs besides the brain at the level of body tissues. All organs of the body besides the brain are explained by four kinds of tissues: muscle tissues, connective tissues, epithelial tissues and nervous tissues. For example, after explaining the heart at the organizational level of body systems (as a pump that shoots nourishment and draws waste), physiologists explain the function of the heart with the increased specifics of tissue physiology. Physiologists explain the heart with the interaction of (whole) tissues as: 1) muscle tissues create the general structure of a pump while flexed muscle tissues push nourishment throughout the body and pull waste, 2) nervous tissues create a periodic electric spark to flex heart muscle tissues, 3) connective tissues create valves in the pump structure to produce directional flow, and 4) epithelial tissues encase muscle tissues and create pipes to carry nourishment and waste. The organizational level of tissues completely explains all organs with a macro-perspective of tissue physiology that is more detailed than the organizational level of body systems that also completely explains organs.
Physiologists explain all organs of the body except the brain with tissue physiology (the physiology of entire tissues and their interaction) but are unable to explain any organ with a smaller, more complex organizational level. Cellular physiology explains tissue physiology that explains organs, but cellular physiology cannot skip a “generation” of information about tissues to directly inform about organs. Consistently, investigating molecular physiology to understand an organ skips two generations of information (about tissues and the cells that comprise tissues). Molecular physiology cannot yet explain any cell of the body; it is illogical to believe that it can explain a tissue, much less an organ. Investigating molecular neuroscience to understand the brain is analogous to investigating the molecular structure of steel to understand the purpose (function) of an automobile engine. Investigating cellular and molecular neurophysiology to understand behavioral neuroscience contradicts the philosophy of physiology that explains organs with tissues — the physiology of whole tissues and the physiology of their interaction.
Popular behavioral neuroscience investigations contradict the philosophy of physiology when brain research fails to theorize about a macro-perspective of whole nervous tissues and their interaction.
In conclusion, scientific logic dictates that the tenets of a science are the most important guidelines to follow since everything emanates from foundational principles. Unfortunately, the distinguished endeavor to understand behavioral neuroscience is hindered by critical, long-established scientific anomalies hidden deep within accepted theory. Neuroscience investigations continue to contradict basic scientific logic and the philosophy of (general) science, a philosophy of natural science and the philosophy of physiology. It is illogical and unscientific for accepted neuroscience theory to assume complex brain principles and ignore magnificently simple binary science when: 1) brain principles are unknown, 2) eminent natural scientists advocate simple brain principles, and 3) neuroscientists model the brain with computers that operate through binary science. Equally important, popular behavioral neuroscience theory contradicts the philosophy of physiology while investigating molecular neurophysiology, cellular neurophysiology and complex systems neuroscience rather than whole tissue neuroscience.
Science logic and the tenets of informing sciences implore consideration of binary tissue neuroscience to understand behavioral neuroscience. For instance, neuroscientists should consider the binary science of “motivated-thinking” wherein the thinking process is somehow separate from the motivation that directs it. With an example like motivated-thinking, neuroscientists should consider whether nervous tissue structured for motivation (like the limbic system) directs nervous tissue structured for thinking (like the cerebral cortex). Scientific truth can radically improve community mental health; binary tissue neuroscience is the foundation of a breakthrough theory that explains all human psychology (free at NaturalPsychology.org).
1 Kuhn, T. (1962). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, University of Chicago Press.
2 Popper, K. (1959). The Logic of Scientific Discovery, reprinted 2002 by Routledge.
3 Eysenck, H.J. (1978). An Exercise in Mega-Silliness, American Psychologist, vol. 33(5), May 1978, 517; Ioannidis, J. A. (2016). The Mass Production of Redundant, Misleading, and Conflicted Systematic Review and Meta-analyses. The Milbank Quarterly, 94(3), 485-514. doi:10.1111/1468-0009.12210.
4 Greene, B. (1999). The Elegant Universe, Norton, New York; Lewin, W., N. Buckner & R. Whittlesey (1998). Mysteries of the Universe, A Science Odyssey, (part 1), a PBS film; Weinberg, S. (2003). The Elegant Universe, Nova, a PBS film by Brian Greene.
5 Marieb, E. & K. Hoehn (2012), Human Anatomy and Physiology, Benjamin-Cummings Pub. Co, (9th Edition); Martini, F. et al. (2011). Fundamentals of Anatomy and Physiology. Benjamin Cummings Publishers, (9th Edition); Tortora, G. & B. Derrickson. (2012). Principles of Anatomy and Physiology. New York: Harper and Row (13th Edition).