The Engine of Reason, the Seat of the Soul: A Philosophical Journey Into the Brain

Front Cover
MIT Press, 1996 - Medical - 329 pages

A new picture of the mind is emerging, and explanations now exist for what has so long seemed mysterious. This real understanding of how the biological brain works -- of how we work -- has generated a mood of excitement that is shared in a half-dozen intersecting disciplines. Philosopher Paul Churchland, who is widely known as a gifted teacher and expository writer, explains these scientific developments in a simple, authoritative, and pictorial fashion. He not only opens the door into the ongoing research of the neurobiological and connectionist communities but goes further, probing the social and moral dimensions of recent experimental results that assign consciousness to all but the very simplest forms of animals.In a fast-paced, entertaining narrative, replete with examples and numerous explanatory illustrations, Churchland brings together an exceptionally broad range of intellectual issues. He summarizes new results from neuroscience and recent work with artificial neural networks that together suggest a unified set of answers to questions about how the brain actually works; how it sustains a thinking, feeling, dreaming self; and how it sustains a self-conscious person.Churchland first explains the science -- the powerful role of vector coding in sensory representation and pattern recognition, artificial neural networks that imitate parts of the brain, recurrent networks, neural representation of the social world, and diagnostic technologies and therapies for the brain in trouble. He then explores the far-reaching consequences of the current neurocomputational understanding of mind for our philosophical convictions, and for our social, moral, legal, medical, and personal lives.Churchland's wry wit and skillful teaching style are evident throughout. He introduces the remarkable representational power of a single human brain, for instance, via a captivating brain/World-Trade-Tower TV screen analogy. "Who can be watching this pixilated show?" Churchland queries; the answer is a provocative "no one." And he has included a folded stereoscopic viewer, attached to the inside back cover of the book, that readers can use to participate directly in several revealing experiments concerning stereo vision.A Bradford Book


What people are saying - Write a review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - MarkBeronte - LibraryThing

A new picture of the mind is emerging, and explanations now exist for what has so long seemed mysterious. This real understanding of how the biological brain works -- of how we work -- has generated a ... Read full review

Review: The Engine of Reason, the Seat of the Soul: A Philosophical Journey Into the Brain

User Review  - Andrew - Goodreads

Without being able to posit a closed system for the mind, Churchland's work isn't completely definitive, but it's the best neurology-oriented book on consciousness out there. Read full review

Common terms and phrases

Popular passages

Page 204 - reduction, the essential features of the pain would be left out. No description of the third-person, objective, physiological facts would convey the subjective, first-person character of the pain, simply because the first-person features are different from the third-person features.
Page 211 - Most scientists and philosophers would cite the presumed fact that humans have their origins in 4.5 billion years of purely chemical and biological evolution as a weighty consideration in favor of expecting mental phenomena to be nothing but a particularly exquisite articulation of the basic properties of matter and energy.
Page 207 - The magnetron tube converts regular electricity into microwaves— When [the microwaves] encounter any matter containing moisture—specifically food—they are absorbed into it— The microwaves agitate and vibrate the moisture molecules at such a great rate that friction is created; the friction, in turn, creates heat and the heat causes the food to cook.
Page 143 - laws of nature" play an undeniably important but nonetheless secondary role, mostly in the social business of communicating or teaching scientific skills. One's scientific understanding is lodged primarily in one's acquired hierarchy of structural and dynamical prototypes, not primarily in a set of linguistic formulas. In a parallel fashion,
Page 149 - This quick portrait of the moral miscreant invites a correspondingly altered portrait of the morally successful person. The common picture of the Moral Agent as one who has acquiesced in a set of explicit rules imposed from the outside—from God, perhaps, or from Society—is dubious in the extreme.
Page 294 - and behavioral skills in the social domain, then the skeptic's question must become, "Why should I acquire those skills?" To which the honest answer is, "Because they are easily the most important skills you will ever learn.
Page 125 - The aim was to discover if a network of the modest size at issue could learn to discriminate features at this level of subtlety, across a real diversity of human faces. The answer is yes, but it must be qualified. On the training set of (8 emotions x 20 faces = ) 160 photos in all,
Page 128 - An important subset of causal sequences is the set of ritual or conventional sequences. To take some prototypical examples, consider a social introduction, an exchange of pleasantries, an extended negotiation, a closing of a deal, a proper leave-taking, and so on. All of these mutual exchanges require, for their recognition as well as
Page 149 - Such a child is doomed to chronic conflict with other children—doomed to cause them disappointment, frustration, and eventually anger, all of it directed at him. Moreover, he has all of it coming, despite the fact that a flintyeyed determination to "flout the rules" is not what lies behind his unacceptable behavior. The
Page 147 - people will by definition be rare, although all of us have some moral imagination, and all of us some capacity for criticism. Accordingly, moral disagreements will be less a matter of interpersonal conflict over what "moral rules" to follow, and more a matter of interpersonal divergence as to what moral prototype best characterizes the situation at issue;

About the author (1996)

Paul M. Churchland is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, San Diego. He is the author of "The Engine of Reason, the Seat of the Soul", "Matter and Consciousness: A Contemporary Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind" (both published by the MIT Press), and other books.

Bibliographic information