Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Neural Reflections - David Christopher Lane

Over at Integral World, David Lane posted an interview with Patricia Churchland, one of the flatlanders of consciousness research. She is incredibly smart and, in my opinion, incredibly wrong about the nature of consciousness.

After the interview, lane posts his own short Neural Reflections on the interview. Lane edited the transcript of the interview for its original publication in 1990.

Here is the beginning of the interview, which is quite lengthy:
An Interview with
Professor Patricia Churchland

Conducted by Meredith Doran

And then if it turns out that you just are "stuff," that your brain just is meat, then wanting it to be different isn't going to change it. Why not accept it for the glorious piece of meat that it is?

--Patricia Churchland
Patricia Smith Churchland is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Californa, San Diego. She is the author of the book Neurophilosophy: Toward a Unified Science of Mind-Brain (Cambridge: M.I.T. Press, 1986), which outlines her views on the connection between philosophy and neuroscience. The following interview was conducted by Meredith Doran, Editor of Plato's Cave, in March 10, 1990. David Christopher Lane, Professor of Philosophy at Mount San Antonio College and Founder of the MSAC Philosophy Group, edited Ms. Doran's transcript and has included an addendum and a suggested reading list.

Meredith Doran: What I would like to ask you first is: what initially led you into being interested in philosophy? Or was it science that first interested you?

Patricia Churchland: What drew me into philosophy? Well, I just got very interested as an undergraduate in the kinds of questions that were raised in a philosophical context. But I was at the same time very interested in science, especially biology.

Meredith Doran: So what led you into working in philosophy rather than in scientific research?

Patricia Churchland: I don't know that there was anything really interesting [in regards to choosing philosophy over science], but I decided to go to graduate school in philosophy, and I went first to the University of Pittsburgh. I did an M.A. there, and I probably should have stayed to do the Ph.D. there, but I had sort of itchy feet, and I was interested in going abroad for awhile. So I went to England, to Oxford, and I finished up there.
And here is one other quote that is interesting:
Meredith Doran: Getting back to your own work--neuroscience and the nature of existence--do you think that science, even if it is able to map out mental processes in terms of brain physiology, can even begin to address the ultimate origin of those processes? Where, in your opinion, is the cause or origin of mental processes?

Patricia Churchland: I do think that neuroscience will be able to explain--well, it depends on what mental processes you're talking about--but I think that if you're talking about, for example, the nature of memory, or perception or reasoning, or use of language, I have no doubt that we will understand those processes in terms of the way the circuits in the brain function. I mean, there isn't anything else to explain them in terms of, so it better be that! There's no spooky stuff lying around, such that when I look in a certain direction I see an orange orange--it's the way the rods and cones work, and the neurons work, and the way the circuits are put together that allows me to see that orange. Now there's still a lot that we don't understand about it, but I expect that we will understand it. Now, of course, it might turn out for some weird reason that we won't, but I can't see that we won't. So I think we just have to keep working at it, and I think we'll get those answers. And I think it'll be very exciting, because we'll be able to understand ourselves--why we have the thoughts and feelings we have, why we're conscious, why we're aware. And we'll know that it's thus-and-such circuit doing thus-and-such thing. Now some people find that rather threatening, and they think, "I want to be a mystery. I don't want to be explained. I don't want to be just "stuff," but of course what one wants--well, first of all, you have to ask why one would want that--why would it be better to be a mystery to yourself than to understand yourself? And then if it turns out that you just are "stuff," that your brain just is meat, then wanting it to be different isn't going to change it. Why not accept it for the glorious piece of meat that it is?
Read the whole interview and Lane's reflections on it.

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