Can Engineering Principles Help Us Understand Nervous System Robustness?

  • Timothy O’Leary
Part of the History, Philosophy and Theory of the Life Sciences book series (HPTL, volume 23)


Nervous systems are formidably complex networks of nonlinear interacting components that self organise and continually adapt to enable flexible behaviour. Robust and reliable function is therefore non-trivial to achieve and requires a number of dynamic mechanisms and design principles that are the subject of current research in neuroscience. A striking feature of these principles is that they resemble engineering solutions, albeit at a greater level of complexity and layered organisation than any artificial system. I will draw on these observations to argue that biological robustness in the nervous system remains a deep scientific puzzle, but not one that demands radically new concepts.


Neurons Feedback loops Degeneracy Control theory Stability Regulation Homeostasis 



I acknowledge support from ERC-StG grant 716643 FLEXNEURO.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of CambridgeCambridgeUK

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