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The Engine of Reason, The Seat of the Soul: A Philosophical Journey into the Brain

3.9 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0262531429
ISBN-10: 0262531429
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Comment: There is a moderate amount of yellow highlighting; spine very good, no creases; includes the Steriopticon 707 viewer in the back of the book; cover has general wear with a crease on front. Ships in poly bag.
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Editorial Reviews


"... The Engine of Reason, the Seat of the Soul [is] a veryimportant book full of tantalizing and astute observations andinsights about consciousness, thinking and thought. Its sweepencompasses morality, politics, the arts, education, penology,psychiatry and the very nature of freedom itself. This is a bookto be reckoned with." Los Angeles Times

"Paul Churchland's The Engine of Reason, the Seat of the Soulis an outstanding philosophical achievement, integrating artificialintelligence, brain neurology, cognitive psychology, ethnology,epistemology, scientific method, and even ethics and aesthetics,into an interlocking whole." W.V. Quine, Professor of Philosophy, Harvard University

About the Author

Paul M. Churchland is Professor of Philosophy and a member of the Cognitive Science Faculty at the University of California at San Diego.

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Product Details

  • Series: Bradford Books
  • Paperback: 344 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press (August 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262531429
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262531429
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 0.7 x 9.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,540,614 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on June 7, 2000
Format: Paperback
Churchland is a great philosopher who has made many significant contributions to the study of the mind. Unfortunately, most of those contributions lie in his papers, other books, and works co-authored with his wife, Patricia Churchland. "The Engine of Reason..." is aimed for the 'popular science' crowd, and it is a wonderful introduction to vector coding and some introductory neuroscience. But it is surprisingly weak in philosophical arguments. It really reads like a light, scientific textbook, and the bulk of it consists of oversimplified explanations which rely too heavily on scientific findings that aren't thoroughly established yet. He is extremely unfair towards philosophers who aren't eliminative materialists (like Searle, Nagel, etc.), and he spends literally no time refuting their arguments. Instead he bullies the reader into believing that the above writers must hold some antiquated Cartesian view which relies too heavily on intuition. He knows he has science on his side and is rather insulting towards philosophers, making them look like idiotic armchair scientists. While unfortunately philosophers are notorious for that fault, they also ask some pretty good questions and make you think. Churchland does neither in this book. This book is a real good starter for vector coding and neuroscience. But for 'popular science' that's scientific but extremely philosophical, I haven't found anything yet that beats Daniel Dennett's Consciousness Explained. For a good refutation of Searle, Nagel and the rest, read their own works and don't just listen to the brief overview Churchland gives.
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Format: Paperback
I've not come across a more sensible and lucidly written philosophy book. The author loves and deeply believes in science. He shows to my satisfaction that the hard sciences can answer many humanities questions or make them clearly pointless. The chapters on vector processing are still not quite as scientific as the author would like them to be, but the book overall has significantly improved my understanding and appreciation of human and mammalian minds. Since Amazon doesn't do it, here is the table of contents: (1) The little computer that could: the biological brain, (2) Sensory representation: the incredible power of vector coding, (3) Vector processing: how it works and why it is essential, (4) Artificial neural networks: imitating parts of the brain, (5) Recurrent networks: the conquest of time, (6) The neural representation of the social world, (7) The brain in trouble: cognitive dysfunction and mental illness, (8) The puzzle of consciousness, (9) Could an electronic machine be conscious?, (10) Consequences for language, science, politics and art, (11) Neurotechnology and human life. Looking at the Index at the back, the entry that occurs on the most pages in the book is "prototype" which in this book means pretty much the same as what some other authors call a paradigm.
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Paul and Patricia Churchland are the leading advocates of the "it really isn't anything" branch of materialist views of consciousness. They assert that one need only investigate how the sensing, processing, and reactions are generated by our brains, and this provides a full description of consciousness. They do not use the label, but they are behaviorists.

While I consider this approach very wrongheaded, Paul Churchland's detailed presentation of this idea is an insightful work of a keen intellect, and I learned a great deal from him about brain function.

What he discusses are the characteristics of neural networks. Neural networks are distributed analog processing nets, where multiple layers of inputs, secondary, tertiary, and quadrenary nodes are linked, and the interaction strengths of these linkages are adjusted in order to perform a task. Such networks have been shown to be quicker and more accurate than algorithmic programs in doing things like facial recognition, linguistic grammar checking, and most of the other discrimination functions we do. They are also tolerant to incomplete input data, and fault tolerant to loss of some nodes and connections. Since this is how the brain is actually wired, he considers the strengths of these networks to be of tremendous relevance to brain studies -- much more relevant than the behavior of linear computers with CPUs.

Basic neural nets have no time-functional behavior, but he points out that if the processed states form middle and upper tiers are fed back into the net as part of the input data, then such nets become capable of periodic state behavior, such as the pattern of activation of muscles in a walking or running leg.
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I can't evaluate the neurobiology in the book since I'm no scientist, but Churchland's entirely accessible discussions of vector coding, feed-forward and recurrent networks, and the general landscape of contemporary neuroscience were exhilarating to read. They made me want to rush out and buy textbooks on the brain--a pretty impressive achievement, as far as I'm concerned.
Churchland's philosophical perspective, as anyone familiar with his work will expect, is thoroughly naturalistic. He has very little patience with anti-reductive arguments, and the three he discusses (Nagel's, Jackson's, and Searle's) receive straw-man treatments, though like everything else in the book, each treatment is good-natured and fairly humble. Readers already lacking tolerance for Searle will enjoy Churchland's caricature of The Rediscovery of Mind as a Betty Crocker cookbook.
Though his explicit discussion of anti-reductionism is sparse, the rest of Churchland's book serves as a demonstration of how much exciting work can be done if we simply ignore armchair naysaying. So I was more bothered by his lack of engagement with philosophers already on the elimintivist bandwagon. His discussion of Dennett, in particular, was cursory and frustrating. It seems to me that he conflates Dennett's distinct accounts of consciousness and content, needlessly (and in the relevant sense inaccurately) portraying Dennett as being a friend of robust human uniqueness.
But quibbles aside, the book is a fantastic read. Its optimistic view of the possibilities of computational neuroscience is infectious. Anyone without ideological blinders on will come away excited about the future of brain research.
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