Accounts of causal explanation are standard in philosophy of science. Less common are accounts of experimentation to investigate causal relations: detailed discussions of the specific kinds of experiments scientists design and run. Silva, Landreth, and Bickle’s (SLB) (Engineering the next revolution in neuroscience: the new science of experiment planning, Oxford University Press, New York, 2014) account of “connection experiments” derives directly from landmark experiments in “molecular and cellular cognition.” We start with its key components, and then using a detailed case study from recent social neuroscience we emphasize and extend three features of SLB’s account: (1) a division of distinct types of connection experiments, each providing a different type of evidence for a hypothesized causal relationship; (2) the typically downward-looking nature (in the sense of componentry) of the experimental search for mediating causes in mainstream neurobiology; and most importantly, (3) the centrality of multiple-experiment research programs, with each experiment designed such that if successful its results can be integrated with the others, toward the goal of confirming multiple-phenomena causal pathways. Our extension of SLB’s account complements existing philosophical work on experimentation in neurobiology.
- Causal pathways
- Connection experiments
- Epigenetic programming by maternal behavior
- Interlevel experiments
- Multiple-experiment research programs