A global framework for a systemic view of brain modeling
The brain is a complex system, due to the heterogeneity of its structure, the diversity of the functions in which it participates and to its reciprocal relationships with the body and the environment. A systemic description of the brain is presented here, as a contribution to developing a brain theory and as a general framework where specific models in computational neuroscience can be integrated and associated with global information flows and cognitive functions. In an enactive view, this framework integrates the fundamental organization of the brain in sensorimotor loops with the internal and the external worlds, answering four fundamental questions (what, why, where and how). Our survival-oriented definition of behavior gives a prominent role to pavlovian and instrumental conditioning, augmented during phylogeny by the specific contribution of other kinds of learning, related to semantic memory in the posterior cortex, episodic memory in the hippocampus and working memory in the frontal cortex. This framework highlights that responses can be prepared in different ways, from pavlovian reflexes and habitual behavior to deliberations for goal-directed planning and reasoning, and explains that these different kinds of responses coexist, collaborate and compete for the control of behavior. It also lays emphasis on the fact that cognition can be described as a dynamical system of interacting memories, some acting to provide information to others, to replace them when they are not efficient enough, or to help for their improvement. Describing the brain as an architecture of learning systems has also strong implications in Machine Learning. Our biologically informed view of pavlovian and instrumental conditioning can be very precious to revisit classical Reinforcement Learning and provide a basis to ensure really autonomous learning.