Tool Development: How Experiment-Driven Sciences Progress

John Bickle, Mississippi State University

John Bickle, Ph.D., Philosophy, Psychology, and Institute for Imaging and Analytic Technologies (I2AT), , and Neurobiology, University of Mississippi Medical Center,


20:00 At the Edelstein Center

Abstract: Philosophers of science have explored numerous ways that science progresses, but one way which hasn’t been explored enough is through tool development. This is unfortunate because tool development is the principal way that experiment-driven sciences move forward: contemporary mainstream cellular/molecular neurobiology and behavioral neuroscience using animal models are such science. This talk is part of a first step toward a metascience of tool development in mainstream neurobiology. Numerous case studies are available for such an analysis. I’ll focus here optogenetics, which offers experimenters unprecedented control over activity in specific neurons in behaving organisms. This case is especially interesting because it involves an experimental tool still being developed—tool development progress still in the making, right before our eyes. The initial metascientific concepts to emerge from an analysis of tool development in neurobiology, motivating problem and initial and second-phase hook experiments, alone constitute an important step forward because they (1) focus attention on the primacy of tool development progress in experiment-driven sciences in ways reminiscent of some of Ian Hacking’s earlier suggestions; (2) offer a distinctively un-Kuhnian account of what drives revolutions in experiment-driven sciences: and (3) free us from assuming that contemporary experiment-driven sciences must “resemble physics,” in either their practices or products, in order to be “scientifically legitimate.”