LINGUIST List 13.1888

Wed Jul 10 2002

Review: Philosophy & Neurosciences,Bechtel et al.2001

Editor for this issue: Dina Kapetangianni <dinalinguistlist.org>


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  1. Ahti-Veikko Pietarinen, Bechtel William, Mandik Pete, Mundale Jennifer, Stufflebeam Robert ed.(2001) Neurolinguistics/Philosophy of Lang: Philosophy and the Neurosciences.

Message 1: Bechtel William, Mandik Pete, Mundale Jennifer, Stufflebeam Robert ed.(2001) Neurolinguistics/Philosophy of Lang: Philosophy and the Neurosciences.

Date: Tue, 09 Jul 2002 18:00:28 +0000
From: Ahti-Veikko Pietarinen <pietarinmappi.helsinki.fi>
Subject: Bechtel William, Mandik Pete, Mundale Jennifer, Stufflebeam Robert ed.(2001) Neurolinguistics/Philosophy of Lang: Philosophy and the Neurosciences.

Bechtel William, Mandik Pete, Mundale Jennifer, Stufflebeam Robert (2001) 
Philosophy and the Neurosciences.
Blackwell Publishers, 496,Paperback,0631210458,$39.95

Book Announcement on Linguist:
http://linguistlist.org/get-book.html?BookID=3122 

Subject: Bechtel et al, ed. (2001) Philosophy and the Neurosciences


Ahti-Veikko Pietarinen, Department of Philosophy, University of Helsinki

Philosophy and the Neurosciences is a reader with papers on cognitive
neuroscience, philosophy of mind, philosophy of cognitive science,
history of neuroscience, and the related disciplines. The text
consists of twenty-four chapters organised in six parts, mostly
reprints of both classical and contemporary papers on topics revolving
around the theme of philosophy and neuroscience. Suitable for a wide
range of courses at all levels from neuroscience to psychology and
from philosophy to linguistics, the book keeps a close eye on
philosophical foundations. Each part begins with an introductory
summary and ends with a list of questions for further reflection.

SYNOPSIS
The first part is on neurophilosophical foundations.

William Bechtel, Pete Mandik and Jennifer Mundale: Philosophy Meets
the Neurosciences introduces the reader to the agenda of philosophy
and neuroscience via the customary disciplines of the twentieth
century: cognitive science, neuroscience and cognitive
neuroscience. An introduction to the philosophy of science, especially
to views on scientific explanation is provided in order to motivate
the more general discussion on the philosophy of neuroscience and the
philosophy of mind in the sections that follow. Special philosophical
issues, most notably the indirectedness of observing mental processes
in the brain, relations between psychological and neuroscientific
inquiries, modularity, and computational analyses of brain processes,
are marked out and put forward as particularly fundamental in
understanding the contemporary relations between neuroscience and
philosophy.

John G. Daugman: Brain Metaphor and Brain Theory shows how pervasive
metaphors and reasoning through them have been in the history of ideas
and scientific inquiry about the brain as the cause of mental life and
behaviour. The kind of metaphors identified range from mechanical to
electronic and from networks and societies to all kinds of
computational ones.

Mundale: Neuroanatomical Foundations of Cognition: Connecting the
Neuronal Level with the Study of Higher Brain Areas approaches higher
brain functions through an appreciation of the workings of the
neuronal level in the brain. Mundale provides an overview of historic
aspects of the neuron paradigm and localisation (i.e., carving out
regions of the brain associated with a specific function), and
examines connections with modern neuroscience.

Bechtel and Robert S. Stufflebeam: Epistemic Issues in Procuring
Evidence about the Brain: The Importance of Research Instruments and
Techniques emphasises the consequence of recognising the epistemic
role of research instruments and techniques in neuroscientific
experiments. Starting with the earliest electrophysiological studies
and ending with modern neuroimaging techniques, Bechtel and
Stufflebeam argue that the epistemic challenges that these techniques
face in trying to demonstrate that they generate reliable data are not
very different from those facing experimental science in general,
namely the definiteness of the results, the consilience with
complementary techniques, and the plausibility of theoretical models
by which the results are interpreted.

Part two is about language as a target of neuroscientific investigations.

Paul Broca: Remarks on the Seat of the Faculty of Articulate Language,
Followed by an Observation of Aphemia is a classic text from 1861
reporting the finding that a speech deficit can be connected with a
lesion in a frontal cortex.

Carl Wernicke: Recent Work on Aphasia is another classic from 1885,
proposing to explain mental capacities by connections between primary
sensory and motor areas.

Steven E. Petersen and Julie A. Fiez: The Processing of Single Words
Studied with Positron Emission Tomography aims at providing an account
of how lexical processing shows up in various brain areas, using the
popular neuroimaging technique known as positron emission tomography.

Elizabeth Bates: Modularity, Domain Specificity and the Development of
Language focuses on the foundations of the evolution of language and
neuroscience. What biological and neurological evidence there is to
support any of the following three tenets about the relation between
language and the brain? (i) The ability to acquire language is
genetically determinate and unique to our neural organisation
(innateness, uniqueness). (ii) The ability of processing language is
localised to specific regions of the brain (modularity,
localisation). (iii) The language abilities are isolated so as to
constitute a "mental organ" (domain-specificity, nativism). Bates
argues for (i) and (ii) and against (iii), on the grounds that there
is little empirical evidence for (iii) while (i) and (ii) are
empirically supported. These arguments are based among other things on
studies concerning aphasia and normal and abnormal language
development.

Bechtel: Linking Cognition and Brain: The Cognitive Neuroscience of
Language pulls the themes of the part on language together by
providing a philosophical perspective to the study of language in
connection with neuroscience. In addition to the question of a general
relation between language and thought, relevant issues can be found in
the linkages between linguistics, psycholinguistics and
neuropsychology on the one hand and neuroscience on the other. These
relations would show up in the decomposition of language into syntax
and semantics followed by attempts to map the processing of these
categories to different brain areas (such as Broca's and Wernicke's
areas, respectively), and in further differences between the three
tenets concerning the relation between language and the brain
discussed in the preceding chapter by Bates.

Part three is about research on visual mechanisms in the brain
intertwined with some philosophical repercussions.

David H. Hubel and Torsten N. Wiesel: Brain Mechanisms of Vision
reviews their early work since the late 1950s on primary visual cortex
and its role in visual perception and recognition of object shapes and
surfaces.

Mortimer Mishkin, Leslie G. Ungerleider and Kathleen A. Macko: Object
Vision and Spatial Vision: Two Cortical Pathways reports the
noteworthy finding that vision in fact consists of two distinct
systems: the system of "what" the objects are and the system of
"where" the objects are located. These systems are correlated with the
hierarchy of two separate cortical visual pathways. Mishkin,
Ungerleider & Macko conclude that vision system in the brain extends
beyond striate cortex, while it remains unknown how these two separate
pathways are in the end reintegrated.

David V. van Essen and Jack L. Gallant: Neural mechanisms of Form and
Motion Processing in the Primate Visual System presents further data
on visual processing by identifying the visual cortex as a complex
hierarchy of brain areas that have their own functional
specialisations while retaining complex patterns of connectivity
between them. This reflects the diversity of visual tasks, including
the role of motion in visual perception.

Bechtel: Decomposing and Localizing Vision: An Exemplar for Cognitive
Neuroscience puts work on vision into a philosophical and historical
perspective by noting that its account fits the framework of
mechanistic explanation in science. In the spirit of David Marr,
Bechtel argues that a proper computational analysis of vision is still
needed, and reviews some promising candidates, such as connectionist
neural network models.

Part four is on the role of consciousness in neuroscientific
theorising, together with philosophical exchanges.

Francis Crick and Christof Koch: Consciousness and Neuroscience sets
ground for scientific study of consciousness and delineates some core
philosophical problems with such an approach. Crick and Koch remain
convinced - motivated by the belief that any representation in neural
correlates of consciousness is already a representation in
consciousness itself - that the problem of finding neural correlates
of consciousness (or visual experience) is ready for experimental
investigation, and go on to outline directions for realising such
experiments.

Jesse Prinz: Neurofunctional Theory of Visual Consciousness discusses
one of the main debates in the philosophy of mind, namely the one
between psychophysical identity theorists (i.e., X is identical with
Y, X is mental, Y neural) and functionalists (i.e., mental states can
be individuated by their functional roles). Prinz argues that
neuroscience can be brought to bear on this issue. In particular,
Prinz aims at showing that in the light of neuroscientific findings
pertaining among other things to attention and recognition, there no
longer exists an obvious dividing line between identity theory and
functionalism.

Valerie Hardcastle: The Nature of Pain investigates reactions in the
brain that specific sensory information, namely one associated with
pain arises in neuroscientific experiments. As the processing appears
distributed and delocalised, Hardcastle argues that the nature of pain
should indeed be viewed as a neuroscientific question rather than
anything located outside the brain or identified with something else
than a neuronal phenomenon.

Mandik: The Neurobiology and Philosophy of Subjectivity reviews the
notion of subjectivity in relation to theories of conscious
experiences. The key point is that, contrary to the received wisdom
from philosophy, neural representations do entertain points of view,
even so that such perspectives can be causally linked with subjective
properties.

Part five addresses philosophical and neuroscientific issues on
representation.

Bechtel: Representations: From Neural Systems to Cognitive Systems
considers a minimal notion of representation and assesses the extent
in which it could be build up into a representation with such
"thought-generating" properties as systematicity and productivity.

Rick Grush: The Architecture of Representation investigates a theory
of representation inspired by the notion of emulation from
sensory-motor control theory and robotics, and defends the view that
human nervous system uses these kinds of emulators to represent
objects external to it.

Kathleen Akins: Of Sensory Systems and the 'Aboutness' of Mental
States argues against naturalistic theories of representation,
theories that try to ground psychological states about objects and
their properties on the order of things explained by the theories of
natural science.

Stufflebeam: Brain Matters: A Case Against Representations in the
Brain stands in opposition to the tendency of positing notions of
internal representations in neuroscientifically inspired theories of
mind. According to Stufflebeam, things like quantities, qualities, or
distributed activation patterns are made to be representations by the
process of interpretation, but that being the case, they become
external to the kind of representations that could be found in the
neural matter of the brain.

The last part concerns scientific reduction between neuroscientific
and psychological theories.

Paul M. Churchland and Patricia S. Churchland: Intertheoretic
Reduction: A Neuroscientist's Field Guide not only reviews some
prototypical cases of intertheoretic reduction but goes on to argue
for a reduction of psychology to neuroscience.

Robert N. McCauley: Explanatory Pluralism and the Co-evolution of
Theories of Science asks: Precisely what kind of reduction is at issue
in the argument the Churchlands are advocating? While remaining
sympathetic to the general view that some sort of reduction between
psychology and neuroscience remains plausible, McCauley analyses
various forms of scientific reduction and argues that the Churchlands
seem to after all support the pluralistic view that even if there is
reduction, one does not need to give up the mutual interaction and
fruitful influences between the two theories subject to reduction,
things that are important for example to ensure scientific
progress. According to McCauley, the impetus for other types of
reduction that eliminate aspects of a theory comes from a rival theory
that moves at a comparable level as the theory that is being
reduced. McCauley maintains that we nonetheless do not have such a
comparable rival for psychological concepts.

Churchland and Churchland: McCauley's Demand for a Co-level Competitor
is a reply to McCauley's criticism arguing that if needed, we already
have competing co-level theories for psychology in computation, in
particular in connectionist models of cognitive phenomena.

CRITICAL EVALUATION

Already reflected in its title, the text stresses and brings to the
fore the importance of philosophical questions arising out of
neuroscientific investigations. This has been mainly achieved by the
extensive editorial overviews and commentaries added at the end of
each part together with useful summaries and questions for further
study and reflection, rather than by the content of the reprinted
papers themselves, many of them explaining quite detailed
neurobiological data. Especially topical are the questions that bring
out the problems related to the philosophy of science, such as how
models of scientific explanation fit in with what the editors have
decided to call "neurophilosophy". This frees this renewed and exiting
field from the received predicament of cognitive neuroscience, which
tends to overlook foundational difficulties rather than genuinely
addressing them, and makes the collection appealing to the philosophy
students and researchers alike who in turn may have overlooked the
research done in neuroscientific circles.

Errata: page 14, line -5: remove "the"; p.244, l. -9: "an exemplar".

ABOUT THE REVIEWER 

Ahti-Veikko Pietarinen is a post-doctoral researcher in the
Department of Philosophy, University of Helsinki. His research
interests include logical issues in the philosophy of language,
semantics and game theory.
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