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Top Cogn Sci. 2015 Apr;7(2):230-42. doi: 10.1111/tops.12131. Epub 2015 Mar 30.

The algorithmic level is the bridge between computation and brain.

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Experimental Psychology, University College London.


Every scientist chooses a preferred level of analysis and this choice shapes the research program, even determining what counts as evidence. This contribution revisits Marr's (1982) three levels of analysis (implementation, algorithmic, and computational) and evaluates the prospect of making progress at each individual level. After reviewing limitations of theorizing within a level, two strategies for integration across levels are considered. One is top-down in that it attempts to build a bridge from the computational to algorithmic level. Limitations of this approach include insufficient theoretical constraint at the computation level to provide a foundation for integration, and that people are suboptimal for reasons other than capacity limitations. Instead, an inside-out approach is forwarded in which all three levels of analysis are integrated via the algorithmic level. This approach maximally leverages mutual data constraints at all levels. For example, algorithmic models can be used to interpret brain imaging data, and brain imaging data can be used to select among competing models. Examples of this approach to integration are provided. This merging of levels raises questions about the relevance of Marr's tripartite view.


Approximately Bayesian; Categorization; Levels of analysis; Model-based fMRI analysis; Rational analysis

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