A trailblazing philosopher's exploration of the latest brain science - and its ethical and practical implications.
What happens when we accept that everything we feel and think stems not from an immaterial spirit but from electrical and chemical activity in our brains? In this thought-provoking narrative - drawn from professional expertise as well as personal life experiences - trailblazing neurophilosopher Patricia S. Churchland grounds the philosophy of mind in the essential ingredients of biology. She reflects with humor on how she came to harmonize science and philosophy, the mind and the brain, abstract ideals and daily life.
Offering lucid explanations of the neural workings that underlie identity, she reveals how the latest research into consciousness, memory, and free will can help us reexamine enduring philosophical, ethical, and spiritual questions: What shapes our personalities? How do we account for near-death experiences? How do we make decisions? And why do we feel empathy for others? Recent scientific discoveries also provide insights into a fascinating range of real-world dilemmas - for example, whether an adolescent can be held responsible for his actions and whether a patient in a coma can be considered a self.
Churchland appreciates that the brain-based understanding of the mind can unnerve even our greatest thinkers. At a conference she attended, a prominent philosopher cried out, "I hate the brain; I hate the brain!" But as Churchland shows, he need not feel this way. Accepting that our brains are the basis of who we are liberates us from the shackles of superstition. It allows us to take ourselves seriously as a product of evolved mechanisms, past experiences, and social influences. And it gives us hope that we can fix some grievous conditions, and when we cannot, we can at least understand them with compassion.
©2013 Patricia S. Churchland (P)2013 Gildan Media LLC
"Patricia Churchland may be the world’s leading neuro-philosopher today, but she also hails from humble beginnings in rural Canada. And that plainspoken farm girl, that second self, is on full display in this beautiful, unpretentious, enchanting exploration of mind, morals, and the meaning of life." (Owen Flanagan, author of The Really Hard Problem: Meaning in a Material World)
The feeling for something, and the sense of being something are hallmarks of human experience. The nature of the self that knows these things is perhaps the most ancient discussion in the humanities. What I find remarkable, as someone who finished graduate school in the early 1980's, is the tremendous sense that somehow, finally, we are about to really understand the brain. The last thirty years has seen remarkable expansion of knowledge in the fields we collectively call "neuroscience."
This concise work by Dr. Churchland, explores neuroscientific contributions to many of the old arguments about the nature of the self with particular attention to moral philosophy, and how we come to be the persons we are. While clearly versed in the scientific material, and able to draw appropriate implications from the research (in stark contrast to some authors who seem simply carried away by the implications of the science) the narrative (performed gracefully by Karen Saltus) is down home and even folksy.
Interwoven with the science are teaching stories from a rural Canadian background. The stories illustrate the author's invitation to view the world (including the sense of self) as phenomena of mind, emerging from our biological brains. In a worldview grounded in biology and the philosophy of science, she finds the commonsense view that we are unique creatures with brains which are constructed by evolutionary processes that leave us with much in common. She finds herself personally comfortable, and I would say hopeful, that this understanding does not amount to "paradise lost," but rather embraces new possibilities in appreciating complexity and difference.
This is a heroic attempt to summarize what we know about who we are, why we're here, and why we do the things we do. It is an attempt to "stand in the truth" which is very challenging to our deeply held desire to be metaphysical beings or something other than biological brains in an all too physical body.
The God Delusion, also written by a biologist (Richard Dawkins), also resisting the pull to superstition and pseudoscience.
Unfortunately preachy, but clear.
The orchestra of hormones that regulate human aggression.
Standing in the truth is hard work, but rewarding.
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