Theory and Simulation in Neuroscience

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Science  05 Oct 2012:
Vol. 338, Issue 6103, pp. 60-65
DOI: 10.1126/science.1227356

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Theory Drives Understanding

The role of theory and simulation in neuroscience has been hotly debated over the past few years, in particular in the context of the recent launch of several big projects aimed at creating artificial or virtual brains. Gerstner et al. (p. 60) review how theory and simulations have interacted over the years and how they have contributed to our present view of how the brain works.


Modeling work in neuroscience can be classified using two different criteria. The first one is the complexity of the model, ranging from simplified conceptual models that are amenable to mathematical analysis to detailed models that require simulations in order to understand their properties. The second criterion is that of direction of workflow, which can be from microscopic to macroscopic scales (bottom-up) or from behavioral target functions to properties of components (top-down). We review the interaction of theory and simulation using examples of top-down and bottom-up studies and point to some current developments in the fields of computational and theoretical neuroscience.

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