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Concepts for understanding brain organization

The 10 Jun 2024 from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Salle Dussane - ENS Ulm, 75005, Paris France
Laura Cerisier


Alongside methods, models and experiments, concepts are a basic building block of scientific research on brain organization. Concepts such as “neuron”, “column”, “sensory map”, “hierarchy”, “network” or “gradient” help us to describe, classify, explain and predict how the nervous system is organized at multiple spatial and temporal scales. The status of such terms can range from well-established (“neuron”) to state-of-the-art (“gradient”) or controversially debated (“column”). Good neuroscientific concepts thus help us better understand brain organization while problematic concepts hamper understanding and need to be improved or revised.

The workshop brings together leading neuroscientists and philosophers of science to discuss how concepts of brain organization guide and constrain experimental and theoretical research. It should be of interest to advanced students and researchers in neuroscience, cognitive science and philosophy interested in how the brain and comparable complex systems are organized, and how science best conceptualizes such systems.

The workshop sheds light on a cluster of concepts (“network”, “gradient”, “context”, “neurocognitive architecture”) that are often presupposed in philosophical and neuroscientific debates about representation, consciousness, or cognition. By discussing the prospects and limits of concepts of brain organization, the workshop breaks novel ground for interdisciplinary collaboration between brain researchers and philosophers of neuroscience. 

While scholarly exchange between neuroscience and philosophy exists frequently at the level of study programs and workshops for junior researchers, it also becomes increasingly rare for advanced researchers. This event is unique in bringing together international experts in both fields to present cutting-edge ideas on the neuroscience and philosophy of brain organization.



Prof. Daniel Margulies, Research director at CNRS Paris, Head of Cognitive Neuroanatomy Laboratory

Dr. Philipp Haueis, Department of Philosophy, Bielefeld University Germany


09:00 Welcome & Introduction (Daniel Margulies & Philipp Haueis)

09:30-10:10 Russell Poldrack (Neuroscience, Stanford University): The Ontological Thicket of Cognitive Neuroscience

10:10-10:50 Daniel Burnston (Philosophy, Tulane University New Orleans): The Brain in Context:  Understanding Functional Flexibility and Lability 

10:50-11:05 Coffee break

11:05-11:45 Sofie Valk (Neuroscience, MPI CBS Leipzig): Gradients as a Ship of Theseus

11:45-12:25 Aliya Dewey (Philosophy, FAU Nürnberg): A Design Conception of Mechanistic Explanation

12:25-14:00 Lunch

14:00-14:40 Carl Craver (Philosophy, Washington University St. Louis): The Preferred Stimulus at the Breaking Point: Methods and Concepts in the Study of Object Recognition

14:40-15:20 Gaël Varoquaux (Neuroscience, INRIA Paris): Rethinking Models and Empirical Evidence to Bridge Paradigms

15:20-16:00 Sarah Robins (Philosophy, Purdue University Lafayette): Engrams and Neurocognitive Architecture

16:00-16:20 Coffee break

16:20-17:00 Jordan Theriault & Lisa Feldman Barrett (Neuroscience, Northeastern University Boston): Allostasis, Category Construction, and Brain Metabolics

17:00-17:40 David Colaço (Philosophy, MCMP Munich): How can Metabolism inform Models of Cognition?

17:40-18:30 Final discussion 


The 10 Jun 2024 from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.


Salle Dussane - ENS Ulm,

45 Rue d'Ulm,

75005,  Paris, France


Attendance and registration

Attendance is free, but registration via the button "Tickets" is mandatory. IMPORTANT : if you are not a student at ENS, your ID is required to enter the building. Your name has to match the one on the ticket.

Funding acknowledgments

Prof. Margulies acknowledges the generous support for this event by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and his Consolidator Grant CORTIGRAD awarded by the European Research council. CNRS supports this event whose neuroscience talks promise to advance our understanding of cognitive architecture, micro- meso- and macroscale brain organization, and theories of information processing in the brain. The purpose of the CORTIGRAD grant is to advance the empirical and theoretical understanding of gradients of cortical organization and its relation to cognitive capacities. The event contributes to this purpose by bringing together neuroscientists and philosophers studying cortical gradients via empirical and conceptual analysis.

Dr. Haueis acknowledges funding support by his home institution, the Department of Philosophy at Bielefeld University, Germany. By creating a space of discourse for leading scholars in philosophy of science and brain research, the event fosters interdisciplinary research, which is a core mission of the department and the university.  Additional support comes from the German Society for Philosophy of Science (GWP), which promotes research of philosophers of science working at German universities, several of which are presenting at this workshop.



Laura Cerisier


Salle Dussane - ENS Ulm, 45 Rue d'Ulm, 75005, Paris France