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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.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Douglas on 01-25-14
Joining The Ranks...
of other neo-Darwinean evolutionary theorists, such as Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Robert Wright, Churchland argues here, with good cause and good evidence, that the self indeed arises, solely and without aid, from the brain. How exactly that happens, of course, remains a mystery, though there is good scientific evidence for believing that it is so. If this book has a flaw, it is not in its science, but rather in its approach--and one can read it in the title "Touching A Nerve." Churchland, like Dawkins and Dennett, often waves the flag a bit too high and too wildly, being a bit too aggressive against unseen (and probably nonexistent) enemies of her theories. All right, Jerry Fallwell might not take to the idea, but he probably isn't going to be reading this book anyway. If I could say anything to Dennett, Dawkins, and in this case, Churchland, it would be "how about you just calm down about the religious right and do science, believing it will speak for itself to the logical--whereas all the blustering in the world won't do a thing in regard to the illogical." Notwithstanding, the book is still well-done and is a fine addition to the growing neo-Darwinean canon.
6 of 6 people found this review helpful
By Gary on 04-26-15
Mind explained by what we know not magic
The best understanding comes about by talking about what we know. There is no explanatory power in invoking the supernatural when trying to explain anything including the problem of consciousness. The idea of a soul to explain consciousness adds nothing to our understanding. This book looks at how we no longer need the Cartesian duality of the mind and the brain in order to explain how we think.
This book looks at the 'hard problem' of consciousness and goes about systematically explaining why it should never be considered unsolvable or classified as the 'hard problem' and how significant progress is currently being made in the field and for which is best explained to layman by a Neuro-Philosopher such as the author is instead of by a neuroscientist.
She writes in a very conversational manner and excels at story telling. The book really comes alive when she gives real life stories from her past. But, make no mistake, she doesn't dance around explaining difficult concepts about evolution, genetics, brain functions, and even the common fallacies you'll often hear which over simplify about race (such as the truly vile book by Nicolas Wade, 'A Troublesome Inheritance'), gender identity and free will. She did point out in the book that Daniel Dennett (whose books I love and have listened to on Audible) is wrong when he says that consciousness needs language. I still love Dennett but Churchland is right on the points she made.
Overall a very sophisticated book written in a conversational manner even while covering hard to understand topics.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
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By Mr. Ian P. Sowden on 05-24-14
Narration destroys content
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This book is thoughtful if slightly superficial.It discusses important subjects but the narration is suited to cosmetic sales or historical novels. She tries to add inappropriate excitement and sexiness. Let the words convey the meaning.