Using artificial neural networks to ask 'why' questions of minds and brains

Trends Neurosci. 2023 Mar;46(3):240-254. doi: 10.1016/j.tins.2022.12.008. Epub 2023 Jan 17.


Neuroscientists have long characterized the properties and functions of the nervous system, and are increasingly succeeding in answering how brains perform the tasks they do. But the question 'why' brains work the way they do is asked less often. The new ability to optimize artificial neural networks (ANNs) for performance on human-like tasks now enables us to approach these 'why' questions by asking when the properties of networks optimized for a given task mirror the behavioral and neural characteristics of humans performing the same task. Here we highlight the recent success of this strategy in explaining why the visual and auditory systems work the way they do, at both behavioral and neural levels.

Keywords: auditory system; functional brain organization; task optimization; visual cortex; why questions.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain* / physiology
  • Humans
  • Neural Networks, Computer*