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1 Introduction

In this paper we describe a new approach to understanding the functioning of the nervous system, developed from previous work of Josephson and Hauser [1] and Baas [2]. Its essence lies in envisaging mature capabilities as the cumulative outcome of a large number of small advances in capability. Each such advance is assumed to be associated with a particular generative mechanism, so that the nervous system as a whole can be viewed as an organised collection of such generative mechanisms, each specialised to some particular generative process. Just as in the case of a factory, the products of one kind of generative mechanism are handed on to other such mechanisms for further constructions to be carried out.

The research agenda associated with the approach indicated above is essentially the following: (i) the developmental process is analysed into elementary steps of development (ii) models are made of mechanisms that could mediate such steps and (iii) on the basis of these models, the elementary mechanisms are integrated into an entire system. The mechanism aspect is essential in this approach, since it is mechanisms that integrate elementary functions into more complex ones (elementary illustration: a lighting system consists of three functional systems, the electricity supply, light sources and switches. These components must be connected together in the right way for the individual components to function correctly).

Such mechanisms might be modelled at a variety of levels, of differing degrees of abstraction, models at one extreme being highly mathematical, and ones at the other attempting to reflect closely the details of the actual nervous system.

Josephson and Baas 16/8/96 (paper presented at ECHO conference, Amiens, August 1996)