Volume 13, Issue 2, 2013
Vagueness and Mechanistic Explanation in Neuroscience
The problem of fuzzy boundaries when delineating cortical areas is widely known in human brain mapping and its adjacent subdisciplines (anatomy, physiology and functional neuroimaging). Yet, a conceptual framework for understanding indeterminacy in neuroscience is missing, and there has been no discussion in the philosophy of neuroscience whether indeterminacy poses an issue for good neuroscientific explanations. My paper addresses both these issues by applying philosophical theories of vagueness to three levels of neuroscientific research, namely to (i) cytoarchitectonic studies at the neuron level (ii) intra-areal neuronal
interaction measured by the BOLD-signal of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and (iii) inter-areal connectivity between different cortical areas. The rest of the paper explores how this framework can be extended to mechanistic explanations in neuroscience. I discuss a semantic and an ontic interpretation of vagueness in mechanistic explanations and argue how both become scientifically interesting from the perspective of a philosophy of scientific practice.