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Review of  Philosophy and the Neurosciences

Reviewer: Ahti-Veikko Pietarinen
Book Title: Philosophy and the Neurosciences
Book Author: William Bechtel Pete Mandik Jennifer Mundale Robert Stufflebeam
Publisher: Wiley
Linguistic Field(s): Neurolinguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Language Family(ies): New English
Issue Number: 13.1888

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Date: Tue, 09 Jul 2002 18:57:15 +0300 (EEST)
From: [email protected]
Subject: Bechtel et al, ed. (2001) Philosophy and the Neurosciences

Bechtel, William, Pete Mandik, Jennifer Mundale, and Robert S. Stufflebeam, eds. (2001) Philosophy and the Neurosciences: A Reader. Blackwell Publishers, paperback ISBN 0-631-21045-8, ix+482pp, $39.95.

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.

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.

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.

Format: Paperback
ISBN: 0631210458
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Pages: 496
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Pages: 496
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