The exploratory dimension of fmri experiments



Experimentação exploratória, Magnético funcional, Imagem de ressonância, Neurociência cognitiva, Práticas experimentais, Neuroimagem funcional


Driven by an appreciation of the field’s early stage of development, I apply the concept of exploratory experimentation, originally put forward in the late 90s philosophy of biology, to current research in cognitive neuroscience. I concentrate on functional magnetic resonance imaging and how this wide-spread technique is used, from experimental design to data analysis. I claim that, although subject to certain significant modifications with respect to the concept’s original rendering, the exploratory character of neuroimaging experiments can be appreciated considering their goals, centered on the stabilization of experimental systems for phenomenological description, and the relevance of their methodological facet. Although I do not claim that there is a specific kind of experiment that one can single out as definitely exploratory, exploration can be seen as a general trait imbuing fMRI-based experimentation.


Não há dados estatísticos.

Biografia do Autor

Alfonso Nicolás Venturelli, Universidade Nacional Córdoba

Instituto de Humanidades da Universidade Nacional Córdoba (UNC/CONICET), Departamento  de Filosofia Córdoba Argentina.


Aguirre, Geoffrey K. 2010. “Experimental Design and Data Analysis for fMRI.” In Bold fMRI. A Guide to Functional Imaging for Neuroscientists, ed. Scott H. Faro, and Feroze B. Mohamed, 55–70. New York: Springer Science.

Aktunç, M. Emrah. 2014. “Severe Tests in Neuroimaging: What We Can Learn and How We Can Learn It.” Philosophy of Science 81: 961–973.

Alexander, David M., Chris Trengove, and Cees van Leeuwen. 2015. “Donders is Dead: Cortical Traveling Waves and the Limits of Mental Chronometry in Cognitive Neuroscience.” Cognitive Process 16: 365– 375.

Bandettini, Peter. 2006. “Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging.” In Methods in Mind, ed. Carl Senior, Tamara Russell, and Michael Gazzaniga, 193–235. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

Bechtel, William. 2002. “Aligning Multiple Research Techniques in Cognitive Neuroscience.” Philosophy of Science 69: S48–S58.

Bechtel, William. 2016. “Investigating Neural Representations: The Tale of Place Cells.” Synthese 193/5: 1287–1321.

Bellgowan, Patrick S.F., Ziad S. Saad, and Peter Bandettini. 2003. “Understanding Neural System Dynamics through Task Modulation and Measurement of Functional MRI Amplitude, Latency, and “Width.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 100/3: 1415–1419.

Bogen, James. 2001. “Functional Image Evidence: Some Epistemic Hot Spots.” In Theory and method in neuroscience, ed. Peter Machamer, Peter McLaughlin, and Rick Grush, 173–199. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Bogen, James. 2002. “Epistemological Custard Pies from Functional Brain Imaging.” Philosophy of Science 69/3:59–71.

Bogen, James, and James Woodward. 1988. “Saving the Phenomena.” Philosophical Review 97/3: 303–352.

Burian, Richard. 1997. “Exploratory Experimentation and the Role of Histochemical Techniques in the Work of Jean Brachet, 1938–1952.” History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 19/1: 27–45.

Button, Katherine S., John P.A. Ioannidis, Claire Mokrysz, Brian A. Nosek, Johnathan Flint, Emma S.J. Robinson, and Marcus Munafò. 2013. “Power Failure: Why Small Sample Size Undermines the Reliability of Neuroscience.” Nature Reviews Neuroscience 14: 365– 376.

Carp, Joshua. 2012. “On the Plurality of (Methodological) Worlds: Estimating the Analytic Flexibility of fMRI Experiments.” Frontiers in Neuroscience 6: 149. DOI 10.3389/fnins.2012.00149

Cheng, Sen, and Markus Werning. 2016. “What is Episodic Memory if it is a Natural Kind?” Synthese 193: 1345– 1385.

Churchill, Nathan W., Anita Oder, Hervé Abdi, Fred Tam, Wayne Lee, Christopher Thomas, Jon E. Ween, Simon J. Graham, and Stephen Strother. 2011. “Optimizing Preprocessing and Analysis Pipelines for Single-Subject fMRI. I: Standard Temporal Motion and Physiological Noise Correction Methods.” Human Brain Mapping 33/3: 609–627.

Constable, R. Todd. 2010. “Challenges in fMRI and its Limitations.” In Bold fMRI. A Guide to Functional Imaging for Neuroscientists, ed. Scott H. Faro, and Feroze B. Mohamed, 71–92. New York: Springer Science.

Eklund, Anders, Thomas E. Nichols, and Hans Knutsson. 2016. “Cluster Failure: Why fMRI Inferences for Spatial Extent Have Inflated False-Positive Rates.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113: 7900– 7905.

Elliott, Kevin. 2007. “Varieties of Exploratory Experimentation in Nanotoxicology.” History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 29/3: 313–336.

Feest, Uljana. 2011. “What Exactly is Stabilized When Phenomena are Stabilized?” Synthese 182/1: 57–71.

Feest, Uljana. 2012. “Exploratory Experiments, Concept Formation, and Theory Construction in Psychology.” In Scientific Concepts and Investigative Practice, ed. Uljana Feest, and Friedrich Steinle, 167–189. Berlin: DeGruyter.

Feest, Uljana. 2017. “Phenomena and Objects of Research in the Cognitive and Behavioral Sciences.” Philosophy of Science 84/5: 1165–1176.

Feest, Uljana, and Friedrich Steinle. 2016. “Experiment.” In The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Science, ed. Paul Humphreys, 275–295. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Figdor, Carrie. 2013. “What is the ‘Cognitive’ in Cognitive Neuroscience?” Neuroethics 6/1: 105–114.

Franklin, Laura. 2005. “Exploratory Experiments.” Philosophy of Science 72/5: 888–899.

Friston, Karl J., Cathy Price, Paul Fletcher, Rachel Moore, Richard Frackowiak, and Ray Dolan. 1996. “The Trouble with Cognitive Subtraction.” NeuroImage 4/2: 97–104.

Friston, Karl J., Pia Rotshtein, Joy J. Geng, Philipp Sterzer, and Rik Henson. 2006. “A Critique of Functional Localizers.” NeuroImage 30/4: 1077–1087.

Gilmore, Rich O., Michele T. Diaz, Brad A. Wyble, and Tal Yarkoni. 2017. “Progress toward Openness, Transparency, and Reproducibility in Cognitive Neuroscience.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1396: 5–18.

Hardcastle, Valerie, and C. Matthew Stewart. 2002. “What Do Brain Data Really Show?” Philosophy of Science 69: 72–82.

Haxby, James. 2010. “Multivariate Pattern Analysis of fMRI Data: High-Dimensional Spaces for Neural and Cognitive Representations.” In Foundational issues in human brain mapping, ed. Stephen J. Hanson, and Martin Bunzl, 55–68. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

Hindy, Nicholas C., Felicia Y. Ng, and Nicholas B. Turk Browne. 2016. “Linking Pattern Completion in the Hippocampus to Predictive Coding in Visual Cortex.” Nature Neuroscience 19: 665–667. doi:10.1038/nn.4284.

Kay, Kendrick N., Thomas Naselaris, Ryan J. Prenger, and Jack L. Gallant. 2008. “Identifying Natural Images from Human Brain Activity.” Nature 452/718: 352– 355.

Klein, Colin. 2010a. “Images Are not the Evidence in Neuroimaging.” The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 61/2: 265–278. Klein, Colin. 2010b. “Philosophical Issues in Neuroimaging.” Philosophy Compass 5/2: 186–198.

Logothetis, Nikos, Jon Pauls, Mark Augath, Torsten Trinath, and Axel Oeltermann. 2001. “Neurophysiological Investigation of the Basis of the fMRI Signal.” Nature 412: 150–157.

Ma, Wei J., Masud Husain, and Paul Bays. 2014. “Changing Concepts of Working Memory.” Nature Neuroscience 17/3: 347–356.

Mitchell, Tom M., Svetlana V. Shinkareva, Andrew Carlson, Kai-Min Chang, Vicente L. Malave, Robert A. Mason, and Marcel A. Just. 2008. “Predicting Human Brain Activity Associated with the Meanings of Nouns.” Science 320/5880: 1191–1195.

Nunez, Paul L., and Richard Silberstein. 2000. “On the Relationship of Synaptic Activity to Macroscopic Measurements: Does Co-Registration of EEG with fMRI Make Sense?” Brain Topography 13/2: 79–96.

O’Malley, Maureen. 2007. “Exploratory Experimentation and Scientific Practice: Metagenomics and the Proteorhodopsin Case.” History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 29: 337–360.

Poldrack, Russell. 2012. “The Future of fMRI in Cognitive Neuroscience.” NeuroImage 62: 1216–1220.

Poldrack, Russell, Chris I. Baker, Joke Durnez, Krzysztof J. Gorgolewski, Paul M. Matthews, Marcus R. Munafò, Thomas E. Nichols, Jean-Baptiste Poline, Edward Vul, and Tal Yarkoni. 2017. “Scanning the Horizon: Towards Transparent and Reproducible Neuroimaging Research.” Nature Reviews Neuroscience 18/2: 115–126.

Postle, Bradley. 2015. “The Cognitive Neuroscience of Visual Short-Term Memory.” Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences 1: 40–46.

Radder, Hans. 2003. “Technology and Theory in Experimental Science.” In The Philosophy of Scientific Experimentation, ed. Hans Radder, 152–173. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Rosa, Maria J., Jean Daunizeau, and Karl Friston. 2010. “EEG/fMRI Integration: A Critical Review of Biophysical Modeling and Data Analysis Approaches.” Journal of Integrative Neuroscience 9/4: 453–476.

Roskies, Adina. 2008. “Neuroimaging and Inferential Distance.” Neuroethics 1/1: 19–30.

Roskies, Adina. 2010. “Saving Subtraction: A Reply to van Orden and Paap.” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 61/3: 635–665.

Savoy, Robert. 2005. “Experimental Design in Brain Activation MRI: Cautionary Tales.” Brain Research Bulletin 67: 361–367.

Saxe, Rebecca, Matthew Brett, and Nancy Kanwisher. 2006. “Divide and Conquer: A Defense of Functional Localizers.” NeuroImage 30/4: 1088–1096.

Scheeringa, René, Peter J. Koopmans, Tim van Mourik, Ole Jensen, and David Norris. 2016. “The Relationship between Oscillatory EEG Activity and the Laminar Specific BOLD Signal.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113/24: 6761–6766.

Schickore, Jutta. 2016. “‘Exploratory Experimentation’ as a Probe into the Relation between Historiography and Philosophy of Science.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 55/1: 20–26.

Serences, John T., and Sameer Saproo. 2012. “Computational Advances towards Linking BOLD and Behavior.” Neuropsychologia 50/4: 435–446.

Stegenga, Jacob. 2009. “Robustness, Discordance, and Relevance.” Philosophy of Science 76: 650–661.

Steinle, Friedrich. 1997. “Entering New Fields: Exploratory Uses of Experimentation.” Philosophy of Science 64: S65–S74.

Steinle, Friedrich. 2002. “Experiments in History and Philosophy of Science.” Perspectives on Science 10/4: 408–432.

Stewart, C. Matthew, and Valerie Hardcastle. 2005. “Localization in the Brain and Other Illusions.” In Cognition and the Brain, ed. Andrew Brook, and Kathleen Akins, 27–39. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Strangman, Gary, Joseph P. Culver, John H. Thompson, and David Boas. 2002. “Quantitative Comparison of Simultaneous BOLD fMRI and NIRS Recordings during Functional Brain Activation.” NeuroImage 17: 719–731.

Sullivan, Jacqueline. 2009. “The Multiplicity of Experimental Protocols: A Challenge to Reductionist and Non Reductionist Models of the Unity of Neuroscience.” Synthese 167: 511–539.

Sullivan, Jacqueline. 2015. “Experimentation in Cognitive Neuroscience and Cognitive Neurobiology.” In Handbook of Neuroethics, ed. Jens Clausen, and Neil Levy, 31–47. Dordrecht: Springer.

Taylor, Henry. 2017. “Attention, Psychology and Pluralism.” The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science axx030. DOI 10.17863/CAM.8295

Uttal, William. 2001. The New Phrenology. Cambridge: The MIT Press. van Orden, Guy, and Kenneth Paap. 1997. “Functional Neuroimages Fail to Discover Pieces of Mind in the Parts of the Brain.” Philosophy of Science 64: S85–S94.

Venturelli, A. Nicolás. 2016. “A Cautionary Contribution to the Philosophy of Explanation in Cognitive Neuroscience.” Minds and Machines 26/3: 259–285.

Waters, C. Kenneth. 2007. “The Nature and Context of Exploratory Experimentation: An Introduction to Three Case Studies of Exploratory Research.” History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 29/3: 275–284.

Weber, Marcel. 2005. Philosophy of Experimental Biology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wright, Jessey. 2017. “The Analysis of Data and the Evidential Scope of Neuroimaging Results.” The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science. DOI 10.1093/bjps/axx012

Yarkoni, Tal. 2009. “Big Correlations in Little Studies: Inflated fMRI Correlations Reflect Low Statistical Power. Commentary on Vul et al. (2009).” Perspectives on Psychological Science 4/3: 294–298.

Yarkoni, Tal, Russell Poldrack, David C. van Essen, and Tor Wager. 2010. “Cognitive Neuroscience 2.0: Building a Cumulative Science of Human Brain Function.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences 14/11: 489–496.




Como Citar

VENTURELLI, A. N. . The exploratory dimension of fmri experiments. Manuscrito: Revista Internacional de Filosofia, Campinas, SP, v. 44, n. 1, p. 1–36, 2021. Disponível em: Acesso em: 27 set. 2022.