Crash Testing an Engineering Framework in Neuroscience: Does the Idea of Robustness Break Down?
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In this paper I discuss the concept of robustness in neuroscience. Various mechanisms for making systems robust have been discussed across biology and neuroscience (e.g. redundancy and fail-safes). Many of these notions originate from engineering. I argue that concepts borrowed from engineering aid neuroscientists in (1) operationalizing robustness; (2) formulating hypotheses about mechanisms for robustness; and (3) quantifying robustness. Furthermore, I argue that the significant disanalogies between brains and engineered artefacts raise important questions about the applicability of the engineering framework. I argue that the use of such concepts should be understood as a kind of simplifying idealization.