Customer Reviews: Brain-Wise: Studies in Neurophilosophy
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The mind/body problem, as understood by philosphers for the last few centuries, has been buried under a mountain of neuroscience. One can of course still tunnel into this mountain if desired and dig further in the mine of armchair argumentation and speculation. But more and more philosophers are abandoning this mine, and employing their unique talents and restless desire to get at the truth, to a view of the mind/brain that is more in tune with empirical research. It is perhaps difficult for the traditional philosopher to make this transition, for they feel perhaps that they are abandoning their commitment to the goals they have set. To these philosophers science is a derived field of knowledge, and has an underlying foundation given by philosophy. To turn against this view would be a sacrilege to many philosophers.
The author of this book is one of the best examples of what can happen when a philosopher has made the decision to investigate what neuroscience has to offer for the understanding of the mind/brain. It is packed full of highly interesting insights from someone who has been deeply engaged in research in neuroscience and neurophilosophy. The advances in neuroscience in just the last few years have been breathtaking, particularly in experimental methods. Some of these developments are discussed in the book, along with good arguments that cast further doubts on the ability of philosophical speculation to produce a workable theory of the mind (brain).
The need for such a theory of mind (brain) is argued especially well for in the first few chapters of the book. The author emphasizes that merely refuting various materialist views of the mind (brain) will not by itself lead to an understanding of it. The dualists and idealists must put forth a constructive theory of the mind that will assist not only in forming a theory of knowledge and thinking, but also with shedding light on the cause of Alzheimer's and other mental disorders. The author gives as an example of this the ideas of the neuroscientist John Eccles who held that the mind-brain interaction is mediated by a "psychon", but the properties and dynamics of psychons were never elaborated on.
The author bases the book on three hypotheses, namely that mental activity is brain activity and can be studied scientificially; that neuroscience is dependent on cognitive science in order to know what phenomena need to be explained; and that to understand the mind one must understand the brain at all levels of organization. The examples and argumentation/counterargumentation given througout the book bring out these hypotheses especially clearly, and the author expresses a rare intellectual honesty in all of the discussion. This is perhaps because she has chosen to assign weight to both the scientific and philosophical viewpoints, and such a careful consideration will only raise the level of objectivity, and suppress the vitriole or subjective biases that sometimes accompanies discussion of the mind/body problem.
One of the most interesting discussions in the book concerns the scientific study of consciousness, in particular the discussion on "Crick's assumption": there must be brain differences when a stimulus is presented and the subject is aware of it, and a stimulus is presented and the subject is not aware of it. The author discusses a fascinating experiment, dealing with "binocular rivalry", that allows an experimental study of Crick's assumption. This discussion, among many others in the book, are excellent examples of what is now available experimentally to help settle the mind/brain debate. In another example, the author points to the use of artificial neural networks with recurrent projection to model consciousness-related functions such as attention and sensory perception. She also discusses a clever experiment to test this idea, but cautions that even if back projections are necessary for consciousness, it is known that they are not sufficient. The author then draws up a list of possible experiments that might identify the neural correlates of consciousness, which, even if shown to be not viable, will assist in the fulfilling of the goal of viewing consciousness in terms of mechanisms. In addition, and to emphasize the necessity for a hierarchical "systems level" study of consciousness, rather than merely at the "neuronal level", she discusses the very interesting work of Antonio Damasio on viewing the capacity of consciousness as the outcome of high-level self-representational capacities. His work, as discussed by the author, emphasizes the role of evolutionary pressures in shaping the nature of human consciousness. Further, the author addresses (nine) of the arguments against a scientific theory of consciousness in terms of brain function put forth by those who advocate dualism. She is not shy about saying that the dualist theories are beginning to appear as an "outdated curiosity", but she analyzes these nine objections fairly and objectively, and she is clearly open to possible future arguments put together by dualists.
The author also discusses some "hardcore" issues in philosophy, such as free will, epistemology, and religion. She addresses some possible reasons why nonempirical epistemology continues to be around, one of these being the rise of modern logic in the twentieth century. The other is the slow progress in the understanding of the human brain. Both of these reasons are interesting because of their importance for research in artificial intelligence. Both formal reasoning and an understanding of how the brain does pattern matching, generalizations, and induction is crucial to the efforts in machine intelligence. Fortunately, the author and others like her, with their formulation of ideas like the ones in this book, will be of enormous assistance to those involved in bringing about the rise of intelligent machines.
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HALL OF FAMEon September 25, 2003
Traditional philosophy has had a rough time lately. The wealth of new information on the brain is forcing us to re-think what the mind is and how it works. Churchland offers the most comprehensive and understandable overview of these challenges currently in print. This outstanding panoramic view of "brain science" provides any reader with challenging questions and offers means to derive the answers. These come not from the reader's knowledge of cognitive science, but from the applicaton of logic. Churchland imposes few responses of her own. Fluent in the science and its presentation, she has varied experience in cognitive science. Her earlier book "Neurophilosophy" coined a term indicating where further work is needed and how the results might be applied. This book brings us up to date and enlarges on that earlier study.
The book is well organized with a superb Introduction surveying the history of thinking on the mind-body relationship. Brain research, hindered by physical difficulties and traditional thinking, was slower to develop than other sciences, such as astronomy or physics. The fundamental organization of brain structure and mechanics are well described and illustrated. The remaining body of the book discusses the three "big questions" philosophy has dealt with over the millenia: Metaphysics, Epistomology and Religion. Each topic is defined with an historical synopsis. Applications of the brain's reaction to phenomena as applied to the subject fill the remainder of each section. Bibliographies and Internet sites are listed at the end of each section within the topic.
The questions she poses are the "deep" ones - pondered and debated for centuries. We call them "deep" because all prior thinking and arguing hasn't resolved them. What, she asks, is the neurobiological basis of consciousness, the self, and free choice? Churchland contends that neurosciences are, at last, bringing answers in view. Her queries aren't limited to classroom debate. She addresses ideas many of us have pondered. Her approach is still novel in the minds of many - she wishes to merge science and philosophy into an integrated discipline. This seems simple, but the task is immense. Tackling it with confidence, she proposes methods for the merger and applies examples.
Churchland simply asks, "what is the evidence supporting the notion?". If there is no buttress available, she urges dismissal of the idea in favour of a new thesis. She teaches us to look for ourselves - what are the pitfalls of blind acceptance? The traps we have fallen into may be filled in with empirical evidence. The result, she stresses, is a sounder footing for our thinking about many issues, moral, psychological and ethical.
Classifying this book as a "textbook" may have been appropriate for the earlier edition, clearly this volume goes beyond the realm of academia. Churchland's expressive style makes the issues available to anyone interested in the subjects of belief, behaviour, "free will" and how we deal with them. Churchland has adapted an effective trove of illustrative material to enhance her excellent prose. Ranging from photographs through various graphics, the illustrations provide further explanation of the points she makes. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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on March 23, 2003
Well, it took more than a decade, but finally those interested in philosophy and neuroscience get an up to date version of Churchlands's NEUROPHILOSOPHY, the groud-breaking and field- creating textbook. Churchland, witht he clarity that characterizes her writings, and the no-nosense naturalistic viewpoint she takes, explains what neuroscience has to say about philosophical problems like consiousness, freewill, the self, theory of knowledge, religion (the fact that some of these problems in fact are now considered neuroscience problems, not philosophical ones, show that neurophilosophy as a field has been succesful, as has been Churchlands approach). But philosophy is still of value, only that its value only exists when it takes science seriously. Just as ancient philosophical problems like the origin of life, the nature of matter, space and time, have become the subjects of independent scientific fields of biology and physics, the mind, and its faculties, is being reduced to the field of neuroscience. There is no reason why this fact should be seen as unexpected or strange or weird. It is as obvious as it can be, and it has brought unprecedented understanding and predictive power, facts that render dualism and its branches an unecessary burden, and a potential setback towards understanding the mind.
The chapters are well written, clear and referenced superbly, with notes and suggested readings. The choice of topics is timely, and Churchland does a good job (although understandably she presents mostly theories in accord with her views and what she thinks is really important) of presenting the main theories and keeping them clear even when omitting certain technical details. The philosophical parts are also well argued for, and her position is defended well. I have allways thought the Churchlands to be the most seriously naturalistic and common sensical of all cognitive scientists. Although the chapters will not explain the self, learning, representationalism, or even less, consicousness, they will point the reader towards what seem to be the right paths to be taken towards genuine understanding.
This book is simple and reader-friendly, the kind necessary to ilustrate the layman that there is little of philosophy worth arguing for left untouched by scientific advancements. Science is just philosophy that is understood,effective, that explains, and that makes genuine progress. We have a much more complete theory of the mind after 50 years of neuroscience research than we got in thousands of years of philosophical discourse. Neurophilosophy is the branch that aims to ground philosophy of mind in neuroscience research, and this books is the best introduction to it out there. Churchland has done it again, and although much work remains to be done, given that the mind is seen by some as the last standing mystery, the progress made for a moment brings back confidence in our ability to understand these issues...finally.
In sum, philosophers, cognitive scientists, neuroscientists, psychologists....anyone that uses the word mind, consicousness, self, thinking....should have this book, and pretty much every intelligent reader should too.
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This masterly book summarizes a prodigious amount of research about the workings of the brain. Author Patricia Smith Churchland introduces the basics of neuroscience to the realm of philosophy. She says that present scientific knowledge about the brain makes it implausible that there is any such thing as an immaterial mind or soul. A committed materialist (although she does not make the case for materialism), she puts a mass of incomplete scientific evidence before you and says that more scientific evidence will emerge over the next decade or so to complete the picture and solidify the case. She does not do justice to contrary views, which she introduces as straw men, easily knocked down. That said, we find that Churchland provides a valuable, highly readable discussion of the challenges neuroscience presents to philosophy. She makes it clear that any philosophy of consciousness must be informed by knowledge of the brain.
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on February 19, 2005
Philosophical purists will criticize Churchland for refusing to engage the philosophical "tradition" on its own terms, i.e., she refuses to stick her head in the sand and theorize as if neuroscience and psychology didn't exist. Rather, what Churchland has done is invert this traditional philosphical stance : survey the scientific results on topics philosophers have wanted to claim as their own: consciousness, free will, the self, human knowledge, religion, and the like (each gets a chapter in her book). That is, make a conscious effort to bring empirical results to bear on these thorny problems of human existence. While neuropsychology can't provide decisive answers yet, its data provides new ideas, new constraints, and casts doubt on those doctrines (such as the 'unity of the self') previously taken as sacrosanct by the head-in-the-sand philosophical establishment.

Overall, a very clearly written book, with lots of interesting ideas and data. If you want your traditional convoluted philosophical treatise, go somewhere else. If you want to be invigorated with new ideas and data from cutting edge neuroscience, then pick up this book!
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on May 7, 2014
Patricia Smith Churchland launched this sub field of cognitive science with her book Neurophilosophy. This book is an excellent addition to her work & although published in 2002 for me it's an excellent update on neurophilosophy.
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on May 11, 2012
It is a serious and detailed paper about a fascinating and controbertible issue. Worth reading it to widen our minds and not keep on looking for supranaturals explanation of the unknown. Serious work.
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on January 18, 2009
As a UCSD student that prefers concrete science and facts over philosophical pursuits, I was hesitant to take Patricia Churchland's course on the Philosophy of Neuroscience. Luckily, I was pleased to find that the class and this book contained just the right amount of philosophy. The book raises several philosophical questions, then provides scientific data about the brain and nervous system to either support or disprove classic philosophical thoughts. It helps show that while philosophizing about the mind may have been useful in the past, today's new methods of examining the brain allow us to be much more scientific about the process.

This is the first and only textbook I've enjoyed reading.
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on September 9, 2007
While tough sledding in sections for those without a grounding in biology, this volume weds an overview of philosophy from Aristotle to the moderns, to the latest studies in how the brain and its constituent parts actually "work", and discusses in clear language the tentative conclusions that can be currently drawn. Since it discusses metaphysical subjects, those conclusions will meet a priori disagreement, but all readers will have a solid foundation to judge the issues for themselves.
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on January 25, 2004
Brain-wise is, to say the least, a less than impressive effort from a philosopher as prominent in philosophy of mind as Churchland is. A short list of complaints includes:
-Churchland collapses the distinction between 'consciousness' in the phenomenal sense ('subjective character of experience') & 'consciousness' in the psychological sense (awareness or self-consciousness)(see Chalmers, 'The Conscious Mind')
-most of her conclusions are simply asserted rather than argued, & when she does make arguments they are startlingly simple-minded
-the book completely overstates the progress of neuroscience, a field still very much in its infancy. She speaks about neuroscience as if she were in complete awe, which is quite unjustified, & she seems to have a bad case of science-envy
-she assumes that all sciences are reducible, which ignores the fact that (as Chomsky argues, although to say he 'argues' this neglects to express the obviousness of his conclusion) we are cognitively limited beings, & that there may simply be aspects of the world that are beyond the reach of our scientific capacities.
-she hauls out the tired vitalist analogy
-she admits the failure of logical supervenience of the phenomenal on the physical, yet fails to see why this counts against materialism (again, see Chalmers)
-the section on religion is just feeble, & includes not one original thought. Most of her 'insights' are along the lines of 'the prospect of [death] ... need not be [unsettling] ... one can live a richly purposeful life of love and work--of family, community, wilderness, music, and so forth--cognizant that it makees sense to make the best of this life'.
Anyway, I suppose someone interested in philosophy of mind should read this, if only because Churchland and her husband are such celebrities in the field. But don't expect much. As an introduction to neuroscience, I am not in a position to judge Brain-wise; my hunch is that if you simply want to become informed as to the latest developments in the field, there are more appropriate books out there. As philosophy, the book is depressingly weak.
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