Can Engineering Principles Help Us Understand Nervous System Robustness?

In Marta Bertolaso, Silvia Caianiello & Emanuele Serrelli (eds.), Biological Robustness. Emerging Perspectives From Within the Life Sciences. Springer. pp. 175-187 (2018)
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Nervous systems are formidably complex networks of nonlinear interacting components that self organise and continually adapt to enable flexible behaviour. Robust and reliable function is therefore non-trivial to achieve and requires a number of dynamic mechanisms and design principles that are the subject of current research in neuroscience. A striking feature of these principles is that they resemble engineering solutions, albeit at a greater level of complexity and layered organisation than any artificial system. I will draw on these observations to argue that biological robustness in the nervous system remains a deep scientific puzzle, but not one that demands radically new concepts.



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Timothy O’Leary
University of Hong Kong

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