This page is my primary documentation of my thought processes related to my PhD work, currently clustered under the title ‘How can we get more brains to study brains?’
In my research, I want to know how brains understand the world, and how we are robust and flexible enough to deal with unexpected situations. My goals are:
to build a culture of collaboration and transparency in neuroscience;
to engage young people in questioning the status quo, both in and out of science;
to develop a theoretical framework for testing hypotheses about the general principles of intelligence (as opposed to intelligence as specifically implemented by humans); and
to establish a descriptive vocabulary for functions and aspects of the mind, in order to connect the activity of nervous cells to our life experiences.
Below are some key ideas that shape my research pursuits. I’m always open to discussing and improving my understanding and implementation of these ideas.
Movement is thought: Movement is fundamental to the workings of the brain. It is clear from an evolutionary perspective that nervous systems developed as a tool for navigating unknown, complex environments. In turn, nervous systems adapt and change in response to the environments with which they interact, including the bodies through which this interaction is implemented; thus, cognition emerges from the interplay between brains, bodies, and the world. Taking all three into account is essential to understanding movement and thought, and until now technical difficulties have created a trend to ignore this fundamental relationship.
Empathetic animal research: Neuroscience research has made us increasingly aware of both the influence of the environment on the brain, and the intimate similarities between human nervous systems and the nervous systems of other animals. The basic fundaments of biology also tell us that all living things are made from different combinations of the same five molecules (Adenine, Cytosine, Guanine, Thymine, and Uracil). We are starting to find that even invertebrate animals use abilities and processes that we once thought only vertebrates could use. I want to prioritize deep respect for all living systems in my pursuit of greater understanding. As a starting point, I do not use any research methodology that we do not currently find ethical to use in humans. Eventually I want to develop tools and methodologies that enable scientifically powerful observations of freely moving animals living in playful and enriching habitats.
Holistic and non-fatalistic approach: “Nature vs. Nurture” is a false dichotomy that does not acknowledge the brain’s ability to modify itself. Reductionism can be a powerful tool but requires understanding what is fundamental to the problem you wish to simplify; thus, it cannot yet be applied to the study of emergent properties, nor to connecting patterns of neural activity to natural behaviors at the organismal level. Neural activity is itself dynamic, responsive, and adaptive to the conditions in which it occurs. Brains exist within bodies and cannot be fully understood in disembodies contexts. These ideas not only describe the primary subject of my studies, but also my primary tool of investigation. I want to design my experiments to embrace the full richness of the brain across spatial levels and timescales. I also try to maintain daily practices that improve my awareness, fitness, and flexibility.
Open and cooperative research: Discussion and collaboration are essential for investigating complex scientific questions, especially ones that are still in need of proper framing, such as neuroscience. Researchers need safe spaces to make mistakes, report negative results, try radical new approaches, and pursue questions challenging the status quo. Transparent and universally accessible research motivates more meticulous documentation, greater trust between professional science and the general public, and increased cross-pollination of ideas and advances between fields. I want to support an open science community by using open source technologies and publishing platforms, and by building bridges between science, engineering, humanities, and the arts.
History of Science
Without understanding where we’ve been, we cannot understand how to act in the present, nor can we be informed creators of our futures.
The perspective we gain when we understand our history is invaluable. An excellent example is this Guardian article by Stephen Buranyi about the history of scientific publishing: Is the staggeringly profitable business of scientific publishing bad for science?
Something that currently frustrates me a lot is that the expected standard basic training for a neuroscientist does not include an overview of the major controversies in our field from a historical perspective. If you are a historian of science, and are interested in developing university-level curriculum about historical events relevant to the field of neuroscience, please get in touch!
If you are a journal editor…
Thank you so much for your interest in my research. I have some questions regarding your journal:
are you an open access journal, with no fees charged to authors who wish to publish open access nor to readers who wish to access your articles?
do you enforce an open science policy, wherein authors are required to submit their experimental datasets and copies of any code used to implement or analyze the experiment?
do you accept papers publishing negative results and replications of past experiments?
do you enable the use of embedded videos as an option for figures included in papers?
I eagerly await your response.
Below is documentation of my thesis work, in various stages of polish. More thoughts can be found in the “BrainPlay” section of this website.