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Representations: Who Needs Them?

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Biologists by tradition have seldom used the term representation to describe their findings. Instead they have relied on phrases such as "receptor field" on the sensory side and "command" or "corollary discharge" on the motor side when discussing neural control of sensation and motion in goal–directed behavior. Such words connote dynamic process rather than symbolic content. One might suppose that this neglect of a now common word reflects diffidence about discussing so–called higher functions of the brain, owing to a humbling lack of understanding of the brain's complexity. Inspection of biology textbooks belies this view. Biologists have shown no lack of hubris in pontificating about the properties of the brain supporting mental functions. On the contrary, they have always taken pride in being uniquely qualified to explain brain function to anyone willing to listen. 

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