Lines of investigation
The behavior of animals is not the behavior of their brains, but the processes emerging from the interaction between neural activity, body biomechanics and environmental constraints. Recent advances in neuroscience comprise a wide range of “big tools” enabling the collection of “big data”, both being promissory notes for understanding the brain and explaining behavior. This has lead to much emphasis on techniques and causal accounts of explanation in the flavour of the latest interventionist techniques and reductionist views, thus giving the impression that detailed studies of behavior and its algorithmic composition are less important. However, dissecting “necessary and sufficient” neural circuits for behavior is no shortcut to the proper study of behavior itself. After all, to ask how the brain works is different than (and requires) to ask what it is for — neurons indeed compute information yet nervous systems evolved to produce adaptive behavior. Thus, in the lab we try to avoid missing the forest for the trees.
We advocate for a more pluralistic notion of neuroscience where the dissection of neural processors (“hardware explanations”) are best investigated after a careful decomposition of behavioral processes (“software explanations”). This has lead us to pursue a theoretical/computational approach to animal behavior, and across species. From worms and flies to mice and humans, we study shared principles of animal movement from which the fundamental properties of these complex systems should be derivable, interpretable and explainable. Our current efforts target three fronts: (i) seeking the perceptual origins of the speed-curvature power-law in human drawing and maggot locomotion, (ii) exploring the organization of posture sequences in foraging worms and fish, and (iii) establishing behavioral homologies in the unfolding of locomotor degrees of freedom in flies and rodents.
We are hopeful that searching for principles of animal behavior across species will offer general insights into the neurobiology, ecology and evolution of animal behavior. Seeking to fulfill the promise of nowadays “big science”, our more abstract complementary approach moves towards a grounded integrative grasp of animal behavior. Quoting Woese, “without the proper technological advances the road ahead is blocked, without a guiding vision there is no road ahead”.
- Neuroscience Needs Behavior: Correcting a Reductionist Bias Krakauer JW, Ghazanfar AA, Gomez-Marin A, MacIver MA, Poeppel D Neuron 2017 93(3):480 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2016.12.041
- Generative rules of Drosophila locomotor behavior as a candidate homology across phyla Gomez-Marin A, Oron E, Gakamsky A, Dan Valente, Benjamini Y, Golani I Sci Rep 2016 6:27555 https://doi.org/10.1038/srep27555
- Dynamical feature extraction at the sensory periphery guides chemotaxis. Aljoscha Schulze* , Alex Gomez-Marin*, Vani G Rajendran, Gus Lott, Marco Musy, Parvez Ahammad, Ajinkya Deogade, James Sharpe, Julia Riedl, David Jarriault, Eric T Trautman, Christopher Werner, Madhusudhan Venkadesan, Shaul Druckmann, Vivek Jayaraman, Matthieu Loui eLife 2015 4:e06694 https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.06694
- Big behavioral data: psychology, ethology and the foundations of neuroscience Alex Gomez-Marin , Joe J. Paton, Adam R. Kampff, Rui M. Costa & Zachary M. Mainen Nat Neurosci 2014 17(11):1455-62 https://doi.org/10.1038/nn.3812
- Active sampling and decision making in Drosophila chemotaxis Alex Gomez-Marin , Greg J. Stephens & Matthieu Louis Nat Commun 2011 0,3895833333 https://doi.org/10.1038/ncomms1455