on 22 November 1998
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.
on 13 August 1999
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.
on 18 June 1997
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.
on 8 April 1999
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.