Causes without Mechanisms: Experimental Regularities, Physical Laws, and Neuroscientific Explanation

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Weber, Marcel
conference paper description
This paper examines the role of experimental generalizations and physical laws in neuroscientific explanations, using Hodgkin’s and Huxley’s electrophysiological model from 1952 as a test case. I show that the fact that the model was partly fitted to experimental data did not affect its explanatory status, nor did the false mechanistic assumptions made by Hodgkin and Huxley. The model satisfies two important criteria of explanatory status: It contains invariant generalizations and it is modular (both in James Woodward's sense). Thus, mechanisms in the narrow sense recently discussed in the philosophy of biology and neuroscience are not necessary for causal explanations. Further, I argue that the explanatory heteronomy thesis holds true for this case.