Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Jacqueline Sullivan


Neuroimaging technology is the most widely used tool to study human cognition. While originally a promising tool for mapping the content of cognitive theories onto the structures of the brain, recently developed tools for the analysis, handling and sharing of data have changed the theoretical landscape of cognitive neuroscience. Even with these advancements philosophical analyses of evidence in neuroimaging remain skeptical of the promise of neuroimaging technology. These views often treat the analysis techniques used to make sense of data produced in a neuroimaging experiment as one, attributing the inferential limitations of analysis pipelines to the technology as a whole. Situated against the neuroscientists own critical assessment of their methods and the limitations of those methods, this skepticism appears based on a misunderstanding of the role data analysis techniques play in neuroimaging research. My project picks up here, examining how data analysis techniques, such as pattern classification analysis, are used to assess the evidential value of neuroimaging data. The project takes the form of three papers. In the first I identify the use of multiple data analysis techniques as an important aspect of the data interpretation process that is overlooked by critics. In the second I develop an account of inferences in neuroimaging research that is sensitive to this use of data analysis techniques, arguing that interpreting neuroimaging data is a process of isolating and explaining a variety of data patterns. In the third I argue that the development and uptake of new techniques for analyzing data must be accompanied by changes in research practices and standards of evidence if they are to promote knowledge generation. My approach to this work is both traditionally philosophical, insofar as it involves reading and analyzing the work of philosophers and neuroscientists, and embedded insofar as most of the research was conducted while engaged in attending lab meetings and participating in the work of those scientists whose work is the object of my research.