Tuesday, May 28, 2013

David Hansel on the Power of Theory

New York University Abu Dhabi hosted David Hansel of University Paris Descartes and Hebrew University of Jerusalem as a guest speaker last week. It was a really great talk, as it was not just about his neuroscience specialization, but also about theory in general. Thanks to him, I got a lead on a fascinating recent development: the ability of scientists, thanks to the Clarity Project, to render a brain transparent, allowing them to examine its structure without physically tearing it apart. He also described intriguing experiments in "optogenetics", or the ability to to excite and inhibit specific neurons using light, and illustrated the correlation of visual cortex activity to visual stimulus.

The second part was about theory as a scientific concept, during which he talked about the different definitions of the word in experimental medicine and physico-mathematics, pitting the likes of Lord Kelvin against Ramon y Cajal with regards to their perceptions of what a theory is and should do. He finished by giving us a tour of the "five levels of theory", ranging from the more neuroscience-friendly level 1 to the more physics-friendly level 5.

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