New Paper, Open Access, with Barry C. Smith (in Philosophy Compass): From Molecules to Perception: Philosophical Investigations of Smell
AbstractTheories of perception have traditionally dismissed the sense of smell as a notoriously variable and highly subjective sense, mainly because it does not easily fit into accounts of perception based on visual experience. So far, philosophical questions about the objects of olfactory perception have started by considering the nature of olfactory experience. However, there is no philosophically neutral or agreed conception of olfactory experience: it all depends on what one thinks odors are. We examine the existing philosophical methodology for addressing our sense of smell: on the one hand appeals to phenomenology that focus on the experiential dimensions of odor perception and on the other approaches that look at odor sources and their material dimensions. We show that neither strategy provides enough information to account for the human sense of smell and argue that the inclusion of the missing dimension of biology, with its concern for the function (or functions) of olfaction, provides the means to develop a satisfactory and empirically informed philosophy of smell.
Lots happening this coming week!!
the video/Q&A premiere of TedxCambridge! --> LINK
Thursday to Saturday:
the Philosophy & Neuroscience @ The Gulf V meeting in Pensacola Beach! --> PROGRAM
Also (last week):
we just had a series of posts in the Brains Blog on our Tools of Neuroscience edited volume!
(by Bickle, Craver, Bunston, Hardcastle, and Barwich) --> See here!
Can machine learning crack the code in the nose? Over the past decade, studies tried to solve the relation between chemical structure and sensory quality with Big Data. These studies advanced computational models of the olfactory stimulus, utilizing artificial intelligence to mine for clear correlations between chemistry and psychophysics. Computational perspectives promised to solve the mystery of olfaction with more data and better data processing tools. None of them succeeded, however, and it matters as to why this is the case. This article argues that we should be deeply skeptical about the trend to black-box the sensory system’s biology in our theories of perception. Instead, we need to ground both stimulus models and psychophysical data on real causal-mechanistic explanations of the olfactory system. The central question is: Would knowledge of biology lead to a better understanding of the stimulus in odor coding than the one utilized in current machine learning models? That is indeed the case. Recent studies about receptor behavior have revealed that the olfactory system operates by principles not captured in current stimulus-response models. This may require a fundamental revision of computational approaches to olfaction, including its psychological effects. To analyze the different research programs in olfaction, we draw on Lloyd’s “Logic of Research Questions,” a philosophical framework which assists scientists in explicating the reasoning, conceptual commitments, and problems of a modeling approach in question.