Project Title: Standard Research Grant: Representation and Inference in the Brain
The goal of this three-year project is to develop useful and precise definitions of ‘representation’ and ‘inference’ for attribution to the brain. Representation and inference are central notions in neuroscience, cognitive science, and philosophy, but they have not yet been rigorously defined in terms of neural activity. All three fields would benefit from such definitions. For example, neuroscientists often describe neural activity as representing and inferring. It is their way of describing the overall function of that activity, an abstraction away from detailed neural recordings. But, because there are no rigorously definitions, there are no objective grounds for these descriptions. As a result, they are treated as casual glosses rather than as rigorous analyses. Just as proper definitions accelerated progress in other fields, proper definitions of ‘representation’ and ‘inference’ have the potential to accelerate progress in neuroscience.