VU mini-symposium Measuring Causal Relations

There were several speakers that all had new and elegant solutions to the problem of trying to establish causality in their field. The one that most appealed to me was the story of professor Olivers. Possibly because as a Cognitive Psychologist he was closest to my field of expertise and possibly because he entitled his presentation “The case of….” which instantly made me put on my mental Deerstalker and investigate.

Prof. Olivers suffers from the ‘black box’ problem – as does anyone involved in the field of psychology. How do we measure what goes on in someones head? Even you dont know exactly what you know, why you think you know that and so on.
What we can know is what stimulus creates what response (and under which circumstances). Sufficient causality is hard to establish in this way but necessary causility is possible; what Must be present as a stimulus to obtain a certain outcome. In profesor Olivers’ research this involves fMRIs to see what zones are being activated when a person conjures up mental imagery. The research becomes more interesting when you add Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) zapping certain areas of the brain into temporary paralysis and then asking participants to evoke the same mental imagery. First map out the zones through fMRI, shut them down with TMS and if the task becomes impossible to perform, one can establish necessary causality between that zone and that mental imagery.

Form the panel-discussion I will take home a shared annoyance at the significance of significance and a Quest to promote the underappreciated correlations metrices. It has started me on the path of Bayesian statistics

An afternoon well spent.

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