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The Engine of Reason, the Seat of the Soul: Philosophical Journey into the Brain (Bradford Books) [Paperback]

Paul M Churchland
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

3 Sep 1996 Bradford Books
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

Product details

  • Paperback: 342 pages
  • Publisher: MIT Press; New edition edition (3 Sep 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262531429
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262531429
  • Product Dimensions: 1.7 x 17.7 x 24.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 733,652 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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"Paul Churchland's The Engine of Reason, the Seat of the Soul is an outstanding philosophical achievement, integrating artificial intelligence, brain neurology, cognitive psychology, ethnology, epistemology, scientific method, and even ethics and aesthetics, into an interlocking whole." --W.V. Quine, Professor of Philosophy, Harvard University "...The Engine of Reason, the Seat of the Soul [is] a very important book full of tantalizing and astute observations and insights about consciousness, thinking and thought. Its sweep encompasses morality, politics, the arts, education, penology, psychiatry and the very nature of freedom itself. This is a book to be reckoned with." --Los Angeles Times

About the Author

Paul M. Churchland is Professor of Philosophy and a member of the Cognitive Science Faculty at the University of California at San Diego.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
The author convinced me how to explain mind as a process of multidimensional vector coding in a massive parallel biological neural network. Everything is neatly explained and illustrated with lots of examples and data from scientific experiments.
He did not convince me that he has a grip on qualia with this explanation. If all there were to pain were knowledge of the "inside path" to the same neural phenomena, why would the victim suffer while the the torturer enjoys the act of torture? Pain is not "inside or outside" knowledge of pain and not only pain behaviour. The same goes for colors and "what is it like to be a bat".
The other thing I did not like about the book are the chapters in the second part of the book containing a wild speculative outlook about the social and other developments that might be possible as a consequence of a systematic mapping of mind processes on physical processes in the brain. While I would fully subscribe to the consequences of understanding neural processes for ethics described in chapter 6, I find the phantasies disgusting about how we might in the future be dealing with social offenders. Some of the ideas remind me that there were judges in the US who ordered the sterilization of law offenders because they believed science had proven their behaviour would be genetically transmitted to their offsprings.
In all, however, this is a superbly written book, an easy to understand account about quite complicated stuff and I learned many new things by reading it. Thank you Prof. Churchland.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great philosophy, effortless to read 13 Aug 1999
By A Customer
I've not come across a more sensible and lucidly written philosophy book. The author loves and deeply believes in science. He shows to my satisfaction that the hard sciences can answer many humanities questions or make them clearly pointless. The chapters on vector processing are still not quite as scientific as the author would like them to be, but the book overall has significantly improved my understanding and appreciation of human and mammalian minds. Since Amazon doesn't do it, here is the table of contents: (1) The little computer that could: the biological brain, (2) Sensory representation: the incredible power of vector coding, (3) Vector processing: how it works and why it is essential, (4) Artificial neural networks: imitating parts of the brain, (5) Recurrent networks: the conquest of time, (6) The neural representation of the social world, (7) The brain in trouble: cognitive dysfunction and mental illness, (8) The puzzle of consciousness, (9) Could an electronic machine be conscious?, (10) Consequences for language, science, politics and art, (11) Neurotechnology and human life. Looking at the Index at the back, the entry that occurs on the most pages in the book is "prototype" which in this book means pretty much the same as what some other authors call a paradigm.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Developments in neuroscience over the last decade will doubtless be compared to the Copernican revolution, totally changing the way educated citizens think of human nature. Churchland provides an invaluable guide to recent research into neural networks, surveying the social, moral, legal and philosophical implications of contemporary neuroscience. While not giving as much emphasis to either the emotional dimension of cognition as Damasio (DESCARTES ERROR) or its social origins and ethical function (see my BEYOND RELATIVISM), Churchland's focus on neural networks has compensating advantages, especially for anyone interested in learning how to think about the way the brain works when we think. Must reading for philosophers and social scientists who are aware that the human brain is neither a blank slate nor a serial computer.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must for anyone interested in the area! 29 Sep 1998
By A Customer
Very readable introduction into current developments in the computational neurotechnology area. Examples vividly explain various specialised functions of the brain. Not as technical as Damasio's "Descarte's Error" and also from a somewhat different perspective.
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4 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Stunning Triumph of Cybernetic Plutocracy 8 April 1999
By A Customer
In this important work, Churchland shows how "corn-on-the-cob ragman" reductionism is the keylink to the understanding of consciousness as an omnipractical telephone and calculator. While never limiting himself to the three directives, Churchland's intellectual vision extends macgruder's concept of grecian-urn concatenation to encompass ephemeral ecclesiastics and more. Qualia, however, receive short shrift in Churchland's analysis, overshadowed by running hormones, which hover on the flamboyant horizon of his work and call us to struggles that we dare not essay to predict. While restless mortals and foreboding repetitions may sanctify this kind of unholy wailing, Churchland challenges us to seek a distrust so unmitigatingly seething and breathing fleshless scars of battles won, and battles lost, and battles not yet fought -- as if to reprimand the trite and somber whimpers, now and then, of yore. Clearly getting the point, the author urges the reader to polish the crust of sorrow, as the crux of reality is negated with the exposition of multivariate daydreams and factorial decompositions. The highlight of the book is a superb discussion of the application of the burning amber stop-light voltmeter to the modeling of neural processes, in which Churchland weaves a breathtaking model so pure, so fine, it's seen as light. Highly recommended.
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