[Neuroscience] Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience

John H. via neur-sci%40net.bio.net (by j_hasenkam At yahoo.com.au)
Thu Nov 16 16:30:00 EST 2006


Final paragraph of review ...

A central feature of philosophy is the clarification of our forms of
representation - the ways in which we make statements about the
world. In articulating and employing this approach to the philosophical
foundations of neuroscience, Bennett and Hacker bring to light
defective forms of representation widely employed by some contemporary
neuroscientists as well as some philosophers of mind. One of the many
strengths of their book lies in its persuasive argument for the
inherent distinctiveness of science and philosophy. Another is its
clear-headed account of the necessity of philosophy to the proper
conduct of science. Sweeping, argumentative and brilliant, this book
will provoke widespread discussion among philosophers and
neuroscientists alike

Another review

Bennett and Hacker use conceptual analysis in the tradition of
Wittgenstein to argue against these most basic assumptions of
neuroscientists. Their arguments are rooted in the history of thought
about the brain and mind, in extensive and scholarly reviews of the
theoretical language of modern cognitive neuroscientists, and in
careful logico-grammatical analyses of psychological concepts. Although
they praise neuroscientists for their accomplishments (Bennett is a
neuroscientist) and express confidence that neuroscientists will
elucidate the brain activity that makes learning, thinking,
remembering, imagining, perceiving, and so forth, possible, they state
clearly what neuroscience cannot do:

What it cannot do is replace the wide range of ordinary psychological
explanations of human activities in terms of reasons, intentions,
purposes, goals, values, rules and conventions by neurological
explanations . . . . And it cannot explain how an animal perceives or
thinks by reference to the brain's, or some parts of the brain's,
perceiving or thinking. For it makes no sense to ascribe such
psychological attributes to anything less than the animal as a whole.
It is the animal that perceives, not parts of its brain, and it is
human beings who think and reason, not their brains. The brain and its
activities make it possible for us-not for it-to perceive and
think, to feel emotions, and to form and pursue projects. (p. 3)


The "representation" is a weed in the neuroscientific garden, and
the sooner it is uprooted the better. (p. 143)


Although I suspect their arguments will be greatly appreciated by
readers of this journal, the authors are not behaviorists. (This may be
strategically beneficial; in a postcognitive-revolution world it may be
best for nondualistic, nonreductionistic approaches to neuroscience not
to be also identifiable as behavioristic, lest readers dismiss them
after considering the source.) The authors perform conceptual analyses
à la Wittgenstein, in which the meanings of concepts as they evolved
naturally provide the basis for judgments of "sense" or
"nonsense" when the concepts are used in neuroscience. Thus, for
example, the notion of memory storage is nonsense because (among other
reasons) ". . . even if there were such a 'record,' it would not
be available to a person in the sense in which his diary or photograph
album is available to him . . . ." (p. 164).


Although something like Bennett and Hacker's view of the language of
neuroscience may be necessary for a conceptual rapprochement between
behavioral events and neural events, it is entirely possible that the
real conceptual puzzles are of a different sort. Far more difficult to
achieve, I believe, will be an understanding of the fundamental
nestedness of the brain, the rest of the body, and the person in the
world, each entity executing processes that overlap and turn back on
themselves and each other in time and space. The firing of a neuron in
the lateral intraparietal area may be critical to the execution of a
choice response that is reflective of recent relative reinforcement
rates (see, e.g., Corrado, Sugrue, Seung, & Newsome, 2005; Lau &
Glimcher, 2005), but the individual neuron's firing only has meaning
when it is part of an integrated neuronal circuit (in this case, part
of the oculomotor circuit), the activity of which only has meaning
relative to the current environmental-behavioral context (the events
arranged in their concurrent schedule procedures), which itself only
has meaning relative to previously experienced environmental-behavioral
contexts (the extensive training the animals received). I suspect a
sufficient understanding of how the brain participates in behavior will
depend on an ability to refer simultaneously to events at multiple
levels of integration and at multiple time frames, including-most
importantly from the perspective of behavior analysts-the animal's
history. Neural causation will not be able to replace mnemic causation.
As described by Bertrand Russell in his 1921 lectures published as The
Analysis of Mind, mnemic causation requires that an explanation of a
behavior in a current setting include references to

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