VARIETIES OF DIFFERENCE-MAKERS: CONSIDERATIONS ON CHIRIMUUTA’S APPROACH TO NON-CAUSAL EXPLANATION IN NEUROSCIENCE

Abel Wajnerman Paz About the author

Abstract

Causal approaches to explanation often assume that a model explains by describing features that make a difference regarding the phenomenon. Chirimuuta claims that this idea can be also used to understand non-causal explanation in computational neuroscience. She argues that mathematical principles that figure in efficient coding explanations are non-causal difference-makers. Although these principles cannot be causally altered, efficient coding models can be used to show how would the phenomenon change if the principles were modified in counterpossible situations. The problem is that efficient coding models also involve difference-makers that, prima facie, cannot be characterized as non-causal in this sense. Mathematical principles always involve variables which have counterfactual (instead of counterpossible) relations between them. However, we cannot simply assume that these difference-makers are causal. They can also be found in paradigmatic non-causal explanations and therefore they must be characterized as non-causal in some sense. I argue that, despite appearances, Chirimuuta's view can be applied to these cases. The mentioned counterfactual relations presuppose the counterpossible conditionals that describe the modification of a relevant mathematical principle. If these conditionals are the hallmark of non-causal relations, then Chirimuuta’s criterion has the desired implication that variables in mathematical principles are non-causal difference-makers.

Keywords:
Computational neuroscience; Non-causal explanation; Difference-makers

UNICAMP - Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Centro de Lógica, Epistemologia e História da Ciência Rua Sérgio Buarque de Holanda, 251, 13083-859 Campinas-SP, Tel: (55 19) 3521 6523, Fax: (55 19) 3289 3269 - Campinas - SP - Brazil
E-mail: publicacoes@cle.unicamp.br