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4.7 out of 5 stars

on 16 September 2015
Outstanding analysis of the problems of cognitive neuroscience, put in historical context. Today cognitive neuroscience has a huge impact which is based on misunderstanding of the functions of the brain. The model is borrowed from neurology, in which brain damage, correctly , is related to behavioural sympotms. The brain does not have this role in normal circumstances, in which it pemits, rather than controls behaviour. This point is made with admirable clarity by Bennett and Hacker. In their previous book on the same topic they expanded considerably on psychological issues related to "brain control" and incisively noted that Cartesian mind/body dualism remains essentially intact in today's cognitive neuroscience, it has merely been replaced by brain/body dualism. It is compelling reading. Recent studies on mice and Drosophlia provide strong support for the idea that the brain allows animals/humans to adapt to what goes on rather than control what they/we do. Defenders of traditional thought within neurophilosophy contributing to this book present arguments which Bennet and Hacker conveniently undermine, and with elegance and often in a funny, yet serious, manner. Strongly recommended!
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on 30 June 2013
This is an important topic which is usually a challenge for the lay reader to follow. Or at least, even if you can follow the views expressed by an author it is difficult to critique their argument.
The format chosen here of the debate between two groups with different views makes the argument come alive and helps you to think through the strengths and weaknesses of the views.
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on 20 November 2014
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on 27 October 2008
This brilliant book contains selections from 'Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience' of Maxwell Bennett (neuroscientist) / Peter Hacker (Wittgenstein specialist) and a 'triangle' discussion between these authors and Daniel Dennett and John Searle.
It is common in science to use intentional and phenomenal terms ('thinking', 'feeling', 'deciding') not only for people, but also for parts of people (especially brains and brain parts). According to 'Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience' this is not - as it seems - a matter of handy metaphor, but it reveals a misunderstanding and in the end incoherence of the language used. Talk about human beings and talk about biology are mixed in a way that adds smoke, to say the least.
Searle (as usual, imho) misses the point and keeps repeating that, for example, the foot as we feel it (part of the 'phenomenal body') is 'in our head'. It is just this sort of embarrassing silliness that Bennett and Hacker expose. In this way Searle does not really add to the discussion, but nevertheless he provides a clear illustration of the misunderstanding at stake.
The reaction of Dennett (beautifully written, but maybe a bit too sharp and personally hurt) is much more important. The differences between Bennett/Hacker and Dennett reveal an interesting tension: in what way can or must we stretch the common use of words like 'think', 'interpret', etc. that they provide more insight and not less?
Yes, Bennett and Hacker are right to warn us that you cannot jump to conclusions by using words in inconsistent ways (with clashing criteria or 'rules'). Don't confuse metaphor with explanation. Projecting human properties on body parts can actually hinder our understanding of the way brains work.
Dennett is right that stretching words is an inspiring way to try to make sense of the growing information we have on brain mechanisms. And he makes a point that his vision of sub-agents ('homunculi' with less functionality than the whole, and with appropriately and gradually less reason to be viewed with an 'intentional stance') does give a fascinating model for future research.
This subject can be seen as: how strictly (and how rigidly) Wittgensteinian should we want to be?
There's much to be said for both parties and this discussion alone already contributes to what Bennett and Hacker clearly had in mind: to sharpen our awareness of the words we use and to put full light on the boundaries between profit and distraction, between adding sense and getting under the spell of our own metaphors.
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