Over at NeuroSkeptic, there was a post asking “what are the unsolved problems of neuroscience”? For those interested in this type of questions, there are more such questions here and here. This, obviously, is catnip to me.
Modeled on Hilbert’s famous 23 problems in mathematics, the list comes from Ralph Adolphs and has questions such as “how do circuits of neurons compute?” and “how could we cure psychiatric and neurological diseases?” For me, I found the meta-questions most interesting:
Meta-question 1: What counts as understanding the brain?
Meta-question 2: How can a brain be built?
Meta-question 3: What are the different ways of understanding the brain?
But the difference between the lists from Hilbert and Adolphs is very important: Hilbert asked precise questions. The Adolphs questions often verge on extreme ambiguity.
Mathematics has an advantage over biology in its precision. We (often) know what we don’t know. Is neuroscience even at that point? Or would it be more fruitful to propose a systematic research plan?
Me, I would aim my specific questions at something more basic and precise than most of those on the list. For the sake of argument, here are a couple possible questions:
- Does the brain compute Bayesian probabilities, and if so how? (Pouget says yes, Marcus says no?)
- How many equations are needed to model any given process in the nervous system?
- How many distinct forms of long-term potentiation/depression exist?
So open question time:
What (specific) open question do you think is most important?
or What are some particularly fruitful research programs? I am thinking in relation to the Langlands program here.