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Did My Neurons Make Me Do It?: Philosophical and Neurobiological Perspectives on Moral Responsibility and Free Will 1st Edition

4.0 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0199215393
ISBN-10: 0199215391
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Editorial Reviews

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"A nicely written, engaging book that makes a genuine contribution to the growing literature on mental causation."--Science


"A nicely written, engaging book that makes a genuine contribution to the growing literature on mental causation."--Science


"Murphy and Brown's arguments are complex, sophisticated and witty, drawing from theology, moral philosophy, neurobiology, and computational theory."--Brain


About the Author

Nancey Murphy is Professor of Christian Philosophy at Fuller Theological Seminary. She is an internationally known author and speaker in the field of religion and science.

Warren S. Brown is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Travis Research Institute at the Graduate School of Psychology, Fuller Theological Seminary. He is a research neuropsychologist with more than eighty peer-reviewed scientific papers on human brain function and behavior. He has also edited or co-authored four previous books, most recently Neuroscience, Psychology and Religion (with Malcolm Jeeves, 2009).
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 236 pages
  • Publisher: Clarendon Press; 1 edition (August 2, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199215391
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199215393
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 1.1 x 6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,056,916 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Alexander J. Szczech on January 14, 2008
Format: Hardcover
"Did My Neurons Make Me Do It" isn't an easy read, especially if you're not conversant in philosophical terminology and concepts. That said, if you are interested in the question of free will in the age of neurobiology then the book is well worth the effort. Murphy and Brown make a compelling argument that, even when embracing a physicalist view of the brain, i.e., no non-material mind, a degree of downward causation by a moral actor is possible by way of higher order processes that emerge in the brain providing a framework for chemical brain events, and which engage the outer environment in action-feedback-evaluation-action loops. Highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
As part of a solid and well thought through academic review, Murphy and Brown suggest that popularizations of recent developments in neuroscience and philosophy have begun to stimulate public discussion. However, they suggest that many popularizers are not only physicalists but also ardent reductionists. Essentially the main theme of their argument seems to be to counter the position that all physicalist accounts of the human condition need necessarily be reductive.

On this basis, they move toward the development of a theory that avoids the hangovers of Cartesian materialism and causal reductionism by viewing the human condition as part of a self directed, self causing system. They achieve this by drawing on the seminal work of leading thinkers likes Juarrero, Deacon, Ellis, Sperry, Van Gulick, Dennett and Damasio (to name but a few). Of central importance to Murphy and Brown's argument appear to be concepts like emergence, supervenience and downward causation, all of which enable the possibility of higher and lower ordering principles, interlevel causality and dynamic processes.

Even if you don't agree with the final conclusions or ultimate positions of these authors; the book is a brilliant resource for anyone wanting to understand more about current scientific and philisophical debates underpinning contemporary neuroscientific research. Highly recommended!
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Murphy and Brown's central thesis is that free will exists because reductionism is invalid for complex systems due to the imposition of higher-order system rules upon the base elements of the system. An example they provide is that DNA sequences do not totally specify themselves, but rather must take into account the interplay of higher levels of organization, such as the environment in which the organism finds itself, which determines the fitness of the organism, which therefore, in a manner of speaking, is "downward causation" (meaning, the environment is actually specifying the DNA sequence, so information/control is moving from the higher level to lower level, not vice versa as one might intuit).

They use arguments such as this as evidence that atoms are not in control of everything, but rather systems and their associated rules must be accounted for as well.

I don't think anyone would dispute that in a complex system there are multiple levels of organization, and that the interplay of systems at different levels all have a bearing on the final outcome. However, the authors seem to think that the existence of systems with emergent properties across multiple hierarchical levels somehow translates into free will.

The rules of the system are still the rules of physics. Nothing they hypothesize departs from a clockwork, mechanistic view of the universe. And, such a view would seem to imply that free will does not exist since the system is bound by its rules (however complex or at whatever level of hierarchy they occur) and could thus be predicted (ok, let's not get into a discussion of chaos theory, but you get the idea -- whether or not the system could actually be predicted, it's not an argument for free will).
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