In my letter of July 11 I wrote to you that your entry on the website of the Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience at Cambridge University compelled me to interrupt my work on Aristotle and Kant and respond to your comments on my ‘Self-knowledge as an imperative’ (I was in the middle of writing a blog entry on ‘Aristotle’s concept of time’). And so I wrote the ‘Notes on the relevance of neurophysiology to self-knowledge’, in the last of which I contrast the Aristotelian topos of the brain with the Kantian space of the mind.
I now intend to resume my work on Aristotle and Kant, but before doing so I must give vent to nostalgia that possessed me as I was reading the entries on the website of your Department. Although I came to Oxford in 1980 at the invitation of the Master of Balliol, the first seven months of my stay at Oxford University was funded by King’s College Cambridge, and so I requested that I might spend the last of those seven months at King’s College; that month lies in my memory as an exquisite treasure.
As I was writing my ‘Notes’, I could not help thinking, how great it would be, if I could spend a month at Cambridge University as a visitor at your Department. What an investigative journey that would be for me!
But back to reality. Apart from your entry, let me refer to just one of the entries that I found highly interesting. Paloma T. Gonzales-Bellido’s laboratory tries to find out what is the optimal neural strategy and performance for a certain visual task. She is particularly interested in the visual performance of small predatory flies, investigating how killer flies keep track of their target during their short and fast predatory flights and how the visual information about small moving targets is coded and transferred from the photoreceptors to the motorneurons controlling flight. Furthermore, she studies how the behaviour is driven by the underlying physiology and morphology of the neural system, employing high speed videography (in the field and in the laboratory), electrophysiology (intracellular and extracellular) and microscopy (light and electron). Her work seems to me to be analogous to your work on the lamprey, by virtue of which you want to promote our understanding how neurons interact in the networks that process sensory inputs, perform cognitive functions, and program motor outputs.
I have been particularly impressed by your criticism of Grillner and Jessell’s ‘Locomotor network of the lamprey’. The authors present the network scheme as ‘characterized’, i. e. that behaviour of the lamprey can be explained in terms of interactions between identified nerve cells and their associate molecular, cellular, and synaptic properties. In your view ‘this network is at best hypothetical, and at worse knowingly wrong; neurons are included without their network relevance being established, others are removed for personal convenience, and approximately 50% of the synaptic connections, which are claimed in print to have been verified experimentally, lack any experimental evidence at all’.
In the light of your research, Carpenter and Reddi’s claim sounds hollow: “In a nutshell, ‘brain versus mind’ is no longer a matter for much argument … So far has brain encroached on mind that it is now simply superfluous to invoke anything other than neural circuits to explain every aspect of Man’s overt behaviour.” (Neurophysiology, 5th ed., Hodder Arnold 2012, p. 294)