Brain Chemistry And The Self

Brain chemistry and the self. Neurophilosopher Patricia Churchland argues our self is our brain. And that’s it. She joins us.

Brain Art showcases prizewinners in the 2012 Brain-Art Competition that honors outstanding visualizations of brain research data. The works are by John Van Horn (US), Neda Jahanshad (US), Betty Lee (US), Daniel Margulies (US) and Alexander Schäfer (DE). (Flickr/Ars Electronica)

Brain Art showcases prizewinners in the 2012 Brain-Art Competition that honors outstanding visualizations of brain research data. The works are by John Van Horn (US), Neda Jahanshad (US), Betty Lee (US), Daniel Margulies (US) and Alexander Schäfer (DE). (Flickr/Ars Electronica)

When Galileo took Earth out of the center of the universe, it shook a lot of people’s worlds. Patricia Churchland wants to shake worlds again. She studies the brain and philosophy. A “neurophilosopher”.

And her message is this. That the more we know about the brain, the clearer it becomes that the brain is each of us. That there is no “mind” beyond the brain. No “self” beyond it. No soul, she says. She knows that rocks world now. She’s here to make the case.

This hour, On Point: Neurophilosopher Patricia Churchland on the brain as all we are.

- Tom Ashbrook


Patricia Churchland, professor emerita of philosophy at the University of California, San Diego. Author of “Touching A Nerve: The Self As Brain.” (@patchurchland)

Sanford Goldberg, professor of philosophy at Northwestern University.

From Tom’s Reading List

The New York Times: Science Events — “After early chapters debunking the soul and afterlife, Dr. Churchland gives a nuanced account of sex, violence and morality, working up gently but ambitiously from brain chemicals to ethical norms. She predicts that consciousness, which she believes may be shared in some form by all mammals and birds, will eventually be understood by the convergence of “a million little important results,” not by a miraculous discovery.”

Nature: Neurophilosophy: My brain and I – “Patricia Churchland is the doyenne of neurophilosophers. She believes, as I do, that to understand the mind, one must understand the brain, using evidence from neuroscience to refine concepts such as free will. Many philosophers and others are unhappy with this proposal. The problem, Churchland writes, is that deep down we are all dualists. Our conscious selves inhabit the world of ideas; our brains, the world of objects.”

Psychology Today: Brain Scans and Brain Scams — “If I peek at your brain, can I tell whether you are a criminal? In his book, The Anatomy of Violence, Adrian Raine thinks he can make a pretty good bet. The giveway? A bigger bit here or smaller bit there. That is the anatomy his title refers to. My last blog (Criminal brains and criminal genes) unearthed a slew of problems undermining Raine’s idea that we can already identify ‘criminal genes’. Now let’s look closely at his claims to identify criminal brains.”

Excerpt: ‘Touching A Nerve’


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