pp 1–18 | Cite as

Structures, dynamics and mechanisms in neuroscience: an integrative account

  • Holger Lyre
S.I.: Neuroscience and Its Philosophy


Proponents of mechanistic explanations have recently proclaimed that all explanations in the neurosciences appeal to mechanisms. The purpose of the paper is to critically assess this statement and to develop an integrative account that connects a large range of both mechanistic and dynamical explanations. I develop and defend four theses about the relationship between dynamical and mechanistic explanations: that dynamical explanations are structurally grounded, that they are multiply realizable, possess realizing mechanisms and provide a powerful top-down heuristic. Four examples shall support my points: the harmonic oscillator, the Haken–Kelso–Bunz model of bimanual coordination, the Watt governor and the Gierer–Meinhardt model of biological pattern formation. I also develop the picture of “horizontal” and “vertical” directions of explanations to illustrate the different perspectives of the dynamical and mechanistic approach as well as their potential integration by means of intersection points.


Dynamical explanations Mechanisms Structures Multi-realizability Generalizability Harmonic oscillator HKB model Watt governor Gierer–Meinhardt model Horizontal versus vertical explanations 



Many thanks to Carlos Zednik and two anonymous reviewers for valuable inputs and comments that helped to improve the paper.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy Department and Center for Behavioral Brain SciencesUniversity of MagdeburgMagdeburgGermany

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