Santiago Ramón y Cajal, the primary architect of the neuron doctrine and the law of dynamic polarization, is considered to be the founder of modern neuroscience. At the same time, many philosophers, historians, and neuroscientists agree that modern neuroscience embodies a mechanistic perspective on the explanation of the nervous system. In this paper, I review the extant mechanistic interpretation of Cajal’s contribution to modern neuroscience. Then, I argue that the extant mechanistic interpretation fails to capture the explanatory import of Cajal’s law of dynamic polarization. My claim is that the definitive formulation of Cajal’s law of dynamic polarization, despite its mechanistic inaccuracies, embodies a non-mechanistic pattern of reasoning (i.e., design explanation) that is an integral component of modern neuroscience.
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