"Whatever society at large views as its most powerful device tends to become our means for thinking about the brain, even in formal scientific settings. Despite the recurring tendency to take the current metaphor literally, it is important to recognize that any metaphor will eventually be supplanted. Thus, researchers should be aware of what the current metaphor contributes to their theories, as well as what the theories’ logical content is once the metaphor is stripped away."
Jones & Love, 2011
While surfing the web for preprints, I found an upcoming Brain and Behavioral Sciences (BBS) release by Matt Jones and Brad Love which I would highly recommend as thought-provoking, lucid and approachable reading material. It's entitled : "Bayesian Fundamentalism or Enlightenment? On the Explanatory Status and Theoretical Contributions of Bayesian Models of Cognition" and it's part intellectual history, part rigorous scientific critique. I should preface this by saying that I am not a Bayesian modeler, and while I'm acquainted with Bayes' laws and have read some Bayesian papers on language acquisition -- which mostly led to yawning and quiet grumbling about how they'd set up the problem wrong -- I am not in the best position to assess the merits of the arguments in this paper. So I won't. I just really liked reading it. I'm eagerly anticipating the full BBS article, which, I'm assuming, will include responses from Tenenbaum, Griffiths, Chater and the rest of the Bayes high court. If their replies are anything like their conference demeanor, it's going to be fun..
If you've read this far, and you're not familiar with Bayes' law, the Internet is chalk full of Bayesian fanatics, so a little Googling should find you a decent tutorial, like this one. I do suggest reading it too : there have been dozens of articles lately in the popular science press about the application of this kind of probability modeling to, for example, medical statistics.
Now, if you're not familiar with the journal, that's something else entirely -- and must be remedied! BBS is a excellent resource for getting your head around a problem, because it allows researchers to meticulously advance a new claim, or set of claims, and then invites scholars in their discipline to submit a one-page reply. For scholars and the lay public alike, this is a brilliant means of both highlighting the issue and clarifying the positions at stake.
To get an idea of how this works, it's worth taking a look at this classic Boroditsky & Ramscar (2001) reply to an early Bayesian BBS article. B&R somehow manage to make the entire contents of the abstract a joke. (You'll see what I mean).
Excerpts, after the jump:
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