Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Neural Substrates of Thought and Behavior


Patricia S. Churchland was on Stephen Colbert's show the other day, flogging her forthcoming book:
Touching a Nerve: Our Brains, Our Selves .  Among other things, she told Stephen that his brain was rather like that of a mouse, and that he didn't have a soul.  I recall reading her book Neurophilosophy back when I was a student of artificial intelligence.  It had a nice discussion of the fundamentals or neuroscience, some confused thoughts on relativity, and the first use of the word "consilience" that I recall.

She and her husband Paul Churchland are exponents of a school of philosophy called "eliminative materialism".  I have only a slight clue as to what that means, but I am generally sympathetic to the notion that our thoughts and behaviors have neural substrates.  They apparently go a bit further and argue that "folk psychology" with its theories of  mind, belief, and sensation is an obsolete theory about unreal objects, like the geocentric universe or phlogiston.  I might be more interested except for my conviction that philosophy is an obsolete science about unreal objects.

In any case, she argues that things like morality are derived from our evolution as social animals, and that empathy, bonding, and similar social behaviors are implemented in and dependent on neuropharmaceutical constructs.  I'm down with that.