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A trailblazing philosopher’s exploration of the latest brain science—and its ethical and practical implications. What happens when we accept that everything we feel and think stems not from an immaterial spirit but from electrical and chemical activity in our brains? In this thought-provoking narrative—drawn from professional expertise as well as personal life experiences—t A trailblazing philosopher’s exploration of the latest brain science—and its ethical and practical implications. What happens when we accept that everything we feel and think stems not from an immaterial spirit but from electrical and chemical activity in our brains? In this thought-provoking narrative—drawn from professional expertise as well as personal life experiences—trailblazing neurophilosopher Patricia S. Churchland grounds the philosophy of mind in the essential ingredients of biology. She reflects with humor on how she came to harmonize science and philosophy, the mind and the brain, abstract ideals and daily life. Offering lucid explanations of the neural workings that underlie identity, she reveals how the latest research into consciousness, memory, and free will can help us reexamine enduring philosophical, ethical, and spiritual questions: What shapes our personalities? How do we account for near-death experiences? How do we make decisions? And why do we feel empathy for others? Recent scientific discoveries also provide insights into a fascinating range of real-world dilemmas—for example, whether an adolescent can be held responsible for his actions and whether a patient in a coma can be considered a self. Churchland appreciates that the brain-based understanding of the mind can unnerve even our greatest thinkers. At a conference she attended, a prominent philosopher cried out, “I hate the brain; I hate the brain!” But as Churchland shows, he need not feel this way. Accepting that our brains are the basis of who we are liberates us from the shackles of superstition. It allows us to take ourselves seriously as a product of evolved mechanisms, past experiences, and social influences. And it gives us hope that we can fix some grievous conditions, and when we cannot, we can at least understand them with compassion.


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A trailblazing philosopher’s exploration of the latest brain science—and its ethical and practical implications. What happens when we accept that everything we feel and think stems not from an immaterial spirit but from electrical and chemical activity in our brains? In this thought-provoking narrative—drawn from professional expertise as well as personal life experiences—t A trailblazing philosopher’s exploration of the latest brain science—and its ethical and practical implications. What happens when we accept that everything we feel and think stems not from an immaterial spirit but from electrical and chemical activity in our brains? In this thought-provoking narrative—drawn from professional expertise as well as personal life experiences—trailblazing neurophilosopher Patricia S. Churchland grounds the philosophy of mind in the essential ingredients of biology. She reflects with humor on how she came to harmonize science and philosophy, the mind and the brain, abstract ideals and daily life. Offering lucid explanations of the neural workings that underlie identity, she reveals how the latest research into consciousness, memory, and free will can help us reexamine enduring philosophical, ethical, and spiritual questions: What shapes our personalities? How do we account for near-death experiences? How do we make decisions? And why do we feel empathy for others? Recent scientific discoveries also provide insights into a fascinating range of real-world dilemmas—for example, whether an adolescent can be held responsible for his actions and whether a patient in a coma can be considered a self. Churchland appreciates that the brain-based understanding of the mind can unnerve even our greatest thinkers. At a conference she attended, a prominent philosopher cried out, “I hate the brain; I hate the brain!” But as Churchland shows, he need not feel this way. Accepting that our brains are the basis of who we are liberates us from the shackles of superstition. It allows us to take ourselves seriously as a product of evolved mechanisms, past experiences, and social influences. And it gives us hope that we can fix some grievous conditions, and when we cannot, we can at least understand them with compassion.

30 review for Touching a Nerve: The Self as Brain

  1. 4 out of 5

    Kristina

    Touching a Nerve: The Self as Brain by Patricia S. Churchland is about 25% interesting and 75% tedious. It is not the “fascinating excursion into neuroscience and philosophy” promised by a review in Publisher’s Weekly. Churchland also does not write in a “lively, down-to-earth style.” She is not an accomplished wordsmith and her awkward phrasing and piling on of technical, scientific language transformed even the most interesting sections into mind-numbing tedium. Overall, Churchland (a neurophil Touching a Nerve: The Self as Brain by Patricia S. Churchland is about 25% interesting and 75% tedious. It is not the “fascinating excursion into neuroscience and philosophy” promised by a review in Publisher’s Weekly. Churchland also does not write in a “lively, down-to-earth style.” She is not an accomplished wordsmith and her awkward phrasing and piling on of technical, scientific language transformed even the most interesting sections into mind-numbing tedium. Overall, Churchland (a neurophilosopher, whatever that is) discusses philosophy as it specifically pertains to the questions of the human soul and consciousness. This book aims to throw the cold water of reality on the idea of a soul and other non-physical substances (magic) as being the source of our consciousness, our sense of self, our memories, etc. Churchland demonstrates very clearly that we are the sum of our parts; we are physical beings and everything we feel, sense, remember is due to the miraculous organ we all have (but some of us don’t use): the brain. As an atheist, I certainly don’t believe in the idea of a soul or other magical substances that transcend the physical world. I can accept that I perceive the world due to neurons and that “efference copy” is one of the mechanisms that allows me to know the difference between me and not me—anything not my physical body. It is a bit disconcerting to have your sense of “me-ness” summarized as complex interactions between hormones and brain circuitry, but that just highlights what a marvelous bit of engineering the brain is. As it evolved, it learned, and here we are. In science-fiction literature, there is much discussion of the android/robot yet humans are in some sense already that—just made of flesh. So the ideas Churchland discusses are incredibly interesting and her scientific knowledge is impressive. However, that’s also the problem—the amount of scientific terminology and illustrations she dumps on the reader. Sometimes it’s not so much the info dump that is the problem, it’s her inability to convey the information without overwhelming the reader. In the end, it’s not all that difficult to understand: a physical perception is created by this brain part and that’s passed to another brain part and hormones are activated and then you think something or see something or do something. Unfortunately there is too much scientific name-dropping, and that, along with the very complex processes she is attempting to explain, created confusing and tedious sections that sucked all the fun out of learning. Her writing style is less than scintillating and she is not “folksy” or “lively.” I often get the sense she is out of touch with modern American culture and she overgeneralizes a lot. In her epilogue, she calls a raven “statuesque.” What? That’s weird. Marilyn Monroe was statuesque. Uma Thurman, maybe. Not a raven. Her awkward word choices and phrasing sometimes made me think “huh what?” more often than the scientific data she presented. There are also a fair amount of typos (bad editor). Overall, don’t buy this book unless you’re really into the brain. It’s interesting, but the facts are presented in such a way that I rushed (as much as I could) through the last three chapters or so just to be done with it. If you like reading about scientific topics, try Mary Roach instead. Any of her books are chock full of science and presented in a humorous, lively manner. Reading Mary Roach is a pleasure.

  2. 5 out of 5

    John

    Debunks dualism. The brain is all there is, there is no separate mind=soul. Consciousness is not a gift to humans but present to some extent in all creatures, at least all mammals. The physical structure of the brain is well-understood enough to make this assertion. When we die, we're dead. The immortal soul (mind) is a convenient metaphor. These are the argument of this book, and for me they seem quite irrefutable. There's a lot of work to do to figure out exactly how consciousness works, but s Debunks dualism. The brain is all there is, there is no separate mind=soul. Consciousness is not a gift to humans but present to some extent in all creatures, at least all mammals. The physical structure of the brain is well-understood enough to make this assertion. When we die, we're dead. The immortal soul (mind) is a convenient metaphor. These are the argument of this book, and for me they seem quite irrefutable. There's a lot of work to do to figure out exactly how consciousness works, but science will get there. Now I'm reading John Searle's Mind: A Brief Introduction and in comparison it seems like the philosophy of the mind goes through painful labyrinths to avoid coming to this obvious conclusion. BTW, she does not discount religion and spirituality as valuable tools in life, but just that beliefs they hold are not based on scientific realities. A very good read.Mind: A Brief IntroductionMind: A Brief Introduction

  3. 4 out of 5

    Brandon

    Disclaimer: This is the same review I posted on Amazon under the username The Professor. Being a young aspiring experimental psychology graduate with a minor in philosophy, I find the work of Patricia Churchland refreshing. A philosopher who actively works in the psychological sciences!? Astounding! About time philosophers with questions about the mind actually look to the experimental results instead of philosophizing in an office chair (no disrespect, most philosophers are brilliant and ask in Disclaimer: This is the same review I posted on Amazon under the username The Professor. Being a young aspiring experimental psychology graduate with a minor in philosophy, I find the work of Patricia Churchland refreshing. A philosopher who actively works in the psychological sciences!? Astounding! About time philosophers with questions about the mind actually look to the experimental results instead of philosophizing in an office chair (no disrespect, most philosophers are brilliant and ask interesting questions, but I feel their method of answering them is unsatisfactory). Turning to this book specifically, it is marvelously written. It's amazing that she can churn out a very academic text like Neurophilosophy: Toward a Unified Science of the Mind-Brain (which despite its age is still worth reading in my opinion, at least the second two thirds of the book) but then write a book like this a layman with no detailed experience in philosophy of mind or psychology can thoroughly enjoy. She interweaves her experiences growing up in a small farm town in rural Canada with the scientific information or philosophical questions she presents, which creates a very comfortable and personal atmosphere in the book. It's very conversational in tone. It treats a lot of the classical philosophical questions such as, "Is there such a thing as a soul?", "Is there an afterlife?", "What is morality, really?", "Is free will real?", and "What is consciousness?". She also touches on some scientific problems such as the relationship between genetics and aggression and genocide. She definitely comes down on the skeptical of evolutionary psychology side. For instance, she disparages the idea that certain conditions in the past may have (very much unfortunately) favored genes which may build brains predisposed to participate in genocidal actions in certain conditions. Her argument is that there aren't any genes for genocide, and that just because we possess the capacity for such horrid behavior doesn't mean it was selected for in evolution. In the book The Triumph of Sociobiology, John Alcock actually discusses these sorts of criticisms of sociobiology and in fact talks about genocide as well. He points out there that no sociobiologist worth his or her degree would consistently say there are genes literally for genocide, etc. He clearly states that the proximate causes for such behaviors like that are very complex and involve a lot of gene-environment and gene-gene interactions. HOWEVER, complexity aside, some of the genetic variance that leads to predisposition to such behaviors can in certain situations end up becoming more frequent in the gene pool. Thus, these genes that *just happen* to build brains that may be slightly more predisposed to such behavior are more prominent. But in no way does that imply its a "genetically determined" behavior and John Alcock rebukes such notions, despite that being a common charge against sociobiology. Given that she happily accepts that genes which promote altruistic and empathetic behavior have been selected for and shaped by evolution, as evidenced in Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us about Morality , she's definitely not anti-sociobiology and anti-evolutionary psychology across the board. Despite this quibble, I don't think it's enough to subtract a star. After all, it did provoke that constructive criticism, which I hope that you -- the reader of this review -- will consider. I also really like her treatment of free will. Being someone interested in investigating the causes of our behaviors, it's often been an unsettling implication to me that because our behaviors are caused and predictable, that we are completely determined. You could call me someone of a reluctant determinist. But, she points out in this book that we DO have a large capacity for self control, and that it needn't be "contracausal" and initiated by some immaterial spirit. These points are similarly made by Michael Gazzaniga in more detail in Who's in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain and similar points are made by Dan Dennett in his various writings on free will. So, perhaps I can regard our behaviors as caused while also believing in free will of some sort. Perhaps this is trying to have my cake and eat it too (freely?), but it's at least something to consider. In any case, the book is well worth your time and is a pretty short read. It might also make a good gift for anyone you know who holds more dualist convictions or is uneasy about neuroscience. EDIT: Given Churchland's asociation with eliminative materialism, the thesis that such mental entities like intentions, beliefs, etc, are part of a misguided folk psychology and don't really exist, I was surprised to see how much she talked about intentionality and so forth. Perhaps she's backed off eliminative materialism, or perhaps she treats eliminativism as merely one possibility. Particuarly, in the epilouge, she states that reductionism is often associated with go-away-ism which is exactly what eliminativism is, but that reductionism is NOT that. She is of course correct, saying that one higher level phenomenon can be explained with a lower level phenomenon (reduction) is very different from elimination. What I'd like to know is if she's adopted reductionism over eliminativism, or if she just avoided advocating it because it's a shocking thesis that would likely turn readers away. For those interested in reductionism, I'd also recommend Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge

  4. 4 out of 5

    ash c

    Something about her style of writing just rubs me the wrong way. Too many exclamation marks, especially used to end sentences that is making a point to prove she's right and if you're not agreeing with her you're wrong. Something about her style of writing just rubs me the wrong way. Too many exclamation marks, especially used to end sentences that is making a point to prove she's right and if you're not agreeing with her you're wrong.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Eugéne

    Misses the self as a structural construction. Brainless.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Michael S

    Could not get through as it is so poorly written. Senseless and profuse similes. Random exclamations. Fundamental misunderstanding of punctuation. Methinks her brain no workie.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Ahmad

    After reading so many pop science books, they all start to sound the same.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Stefan Gugler

    Uff, that was disappointing. It reads like a smug undergrad student who just read Oliver Sacks, Bill Bryson, and Daniel Kahneman and tries to anecdotally regurgitate it with the tone of Richard Dawkins. Given the book was published in 2014, it's almost staggering how much old, boring, sometimes debunked "interesting" experiments it included, like the stanford prison experiment or the marshmallow test. These and two dozen other examples of things are mentioned, without actually going into one and/ Uff, that was disappointing. It reads like a smug undergrad student who just read Oliver Sacks, Bill Bryson, and Daniel Kahneman and tries to anecdotally regurgitate it with the tone of Richard Dawkins. Given the book was published in 2014, it's almost staggering how much old, boring, sometimes debunked "interesting" experiments it included, like the stanford prison experiment or the marshmallow test. These and two dozen other examples of things are mentioned, without actually going into one and/or trying to explain what is really going on. Mostly, it just feels like sort of a gotacha "ha, see, the brain is complicated ", even though I didn't disagree. She is really preaching to the choir hard. Whenever she mentions people that disagree, it's anti-vaxxers or people who don't believe in science or something. I mean, I guess that's an ok point, but so much work went already into debating these people. It's like debating creationists. Sure, you can do it in 2014, but we are sort of over it, aren't we? And even if it's somehow worthwhile, Churchland doesn't approach the debate in a good or healthy manner. Even though she says that it is not 'scientistic', the way she dismisses people with these unscientific believe systems doesn't lead anywhere. More like "lol u crazy" but that didn't further the debate at all. Her main thesis seems to be, that the brain is just a machine, so some sort of qualia reductionism but propositional attitude eliminativism (I guess she'd explain more about this in other books?) But the way she dismisses non-reductionist ideas is outrageously simple. "... but there is no evidence for that" is one thing you read a bunch. Heck, I'm sort of enamored with eliminativism myself, but as a 'neurophilosopher' I'd expect her to engage more properly with the arguments instead of just dismissing them. If I remember Chalmers' survey correctly, most academic philosophers are not eliminative materialists, so there is plenty to take up and systematically debunk, if you are of Churchland's opinion. From time to time she indulges in stories from her past that always end in "it's complicated" and "we have to figure that out in a case by case scenario" and then all of a sudden a couple of jargon words and then the topic is changed. I mean, I don't know, it just didn't feel like there is a coherent narrative or theory that she meant to convey but more of a 300 pages rant about some obvious conclusions you come to as a eliminative materialist without really illuminating the disagreements with other ideas. Wouldn't recommend, rather read one of the books by the authors mentioned above (not Dawkins though

  9. 5 out of 5

    Gary Beauregard Bottomley

    The best understanding comes about by talking about what we know. There is no explanatory power in invoking the supernatural when trying to explain anything including the problem of consciousness. The idea of a soul to explain consciousness adds nothing to our understanding. This book looks at how we no longer need the Cartesian duality of the mind and the brain in order to explain how we think. This book looks at the 'hard problem' of consciousness and goes about systematically explaining why it The best understanding comes about by talking about what we know. There is no explanatory power in invoking the supernatural when trying to explain anything including the problem of consciousness. The idea of a soul to explain consciousness adds nothing to our understanding. This book looks at how we no longer need the Cartesian duality of the mind and the brain in order to explain how we think. This book looks at the 'hard problem' of consciousness and goes about systematically explaining why it should never be considered unsolvable or classified as the 'hard problem' and how significant progress is currently being made in the field and for which is best explained to layman by a Neuro-Philosopher such as the author is instead of by a neuroscientist. She writes in a very conversational manner and excels at story telling. The book really comes alive when she gives real life stories from her past. But, make no mistake, she doesn't dance around explaining difficult concepts about evolution, genetics, brain functions, and even the common fallacies you'll often hear which over simplify about race (such as the truly vile book by Nicolas Wade, 'A Troublesome Inheritance'), gender identity and free will. She did point out in the book that Daniel Dennett (whose books I love and have listened to on Audible) is wrong when he says that consciousness needs language. I still love Dennett but Churchland is right on the points she made. Overall a very sophisticated book written in a conversational manner even while covering hard to understand topics.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Maia

    A conversational and highly accessible look into how the workings of our brains effect the very basis of what makes us human- morals, choices, self-control, compassion, aggression, gender identity and learning. If you are interested in neuroscience but do not want to be overwhelmed with technical details, this book is perfect.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ginger Griffin

    Approachable, folksy, and mostly jargon free, though a bit elementary if you've read anything about neuroscience. The author does provide some good sources in the footnotes if you're interested in reading more. Approachable, folksy, and mostly jargon free, though a bit elementary if you've read anything about neuroscience. The author does provide some good sources in the footnotes if you're interested in reading more.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Joshua Stein

    I should say that I really enjoy Pat Churchland; she's been a huge influence on me as a philosopher and writer. Because of that, I must admit that I really enjoyed this book. It's part memoir and part introduction to her philosophical views, and seeing the relationship between those two things. For those who are interested in Pat Churchland as a person, and want insight into her mind, ignore the rest of this review and consider this an enthusiastic recommendation and five star review. As a piece I should say that I really enjoy Pat Churchland; she's been a huge influence on me as a philosopher and writer. Because of that, I must admit that I really enjoyed this book. It's part memoir and part introduction to her philosophical views, and seeing the relationship between those two things. For those who are interested in Pat Churchland as a person, and want insight into her mind, ignore the rest of this review and consider this an enthusiastic recommendation and five star review. As a piece of philosophical writing, this book has some pretty serious problems, and the problems are worth mentioning. Before I dwell on those, I do think that the book is a good example of how to fight the paradigm of dry, technical philosophical writing both in introductory texts and in writing for a more advanced audience. At various points, Churchland does a great job writing thoughtfully and engagingly about her ideas, integrating experience and easy metaphors. The first and, in my opinion, most serious problem with the book is the organization. It really isn't organized in a way that feels cohesive and engaging. If it were tied together solely by the narrative arc of Churchland's own life, rather than any particular idea, that would be enough, but that narrative approach falls off in later chapters and is quickly lost. As a result, the book really has to be read as a collection of essays dealing with various subjects in philosophy of mind and often only tangentially related to one another; though everything is ostensibly about the brain, even that often fades a bit in order for Churchland to extrapolate on social implications of philosophy and stuff. The second problem is that there are some areas of the philosophical explanations Churchland offers that are really not explored adequately. Throughout the book, she returns to explaining the development of the brain in terms of the genetic preconditions. Of course, she knows and occasionally acknowledges that this sort of explanation isn't adequate. But she only really gestures at the sociological and developmental elements implicated in the development of the brain and mind, and so we only wind up with part of a story, and the parts that are missing are actually very important to understanding Churchland's explanations. The most egregious examples of this are in the chapters on sex and gender and on the development of social cognition. The final problem is one that comes up a lot in writing from really good philosophers trying to make a point to a less experienced audience; Churchland regularly dances back and forth between some explanations that are actually highly technical (particularly when dealing with the neuroscience) and glosses over a lot of other material with sort of a gesture. Now, this isn't a particularly serious problem; to a certain extent, it's inevitable when we are dealing with these sorts of audiences and authors really just have to make certain choices. I think the choices that Churchland made in putting this whole thing together would likely make processing very difficult for those who don't have a fair amount of familiarity with the field, and that cuts against one of the strong points of the book, particularly its thoughtful use of metaphor and storytelling to capture some pretty difficult concepts in neurophilosophy. Still, this is definitely worth a read for those who are starting to get their footing in neurophilosophy or who find themselves generally enamored of Pat Churchland's various philosophical writings.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Stephie Williams

    In this book Patricia S. Churchland claims that the brain is responsible for the identity we call the self, not some soul stuff or any other stuff. She starts by not fully understanding why people have a problem with this view of the self. After this she goes on explain what neuroscience has to say on a range of issues that where once thought to be the properties of souls. She explores what neuroscience has to say about the self, an afterlife, and morality. She then explores sex, aggression, viol In this book Patricia S. Churchland claims that the brain is responsible for the identity we call the self, not some soul stuff or any other stuff. She starts by not fully understanding why people have a problem with this view of the self. After this she goes on explain what neuroscience has to say on a range of issues that where once thought to be the properties of souls. She explores what neuroscience has to say about the self, an afterlife, and morality. She then explores sex, aggression, violence, and war. She moves from there into behavior and freewill, the unconscious, and our conscious experiences. While she doesn’t claim that neuroscience can explain all of our thoughts, experiences, and behavior, she deems it enough to show that it is very plausible that the brain is all that gives us our selves. I was strucked right off the bat, by this in the first paragraph of chapter 1: Churchland says, “I think about my brain in more intimate terms—as me.” [p. 11] This is how I have come to think of my brain, and I am glad I have such a wondrous thing. Another thing I felt important in the first chapter was what she said in connection with William Harvey’s discovery of the circulation of blood. She writes: “Suddenly what everyone supposed they knew was replaced by questions rather than answers, which ultimately led to much deeper answers, and yes even more questions.” [p. 16] This I feel strongly is what all good inquiry should lead to—more questions—questions are the hub of all knowledge. Of course, she has meant this statement to be transferred to the discovery of some of what the brain does. Still in chapter 1, I found this exclamation: “Yay brain!” [p. 21] My sentiments exactly, Yay! Toward the end of the book in chapter 8, Churchland writes how not all thinking is in language, fighting against Freud [and of course others who think in the same vein]. [p. 202] To prove her point she ask us to consider intelligent animals and visualization in humans. I think that all thought is done before it comes to light in language. Finally, in the last chapter, number 9, Churchland states: “. . . it seems wholly plausible that consciousness, in some form or other, is a feature of the brain of all mammals and birds.” Here, I find myself in complete agreement with her. It is my impression that Churchland provides reasonable evidence that the brain is responsible for the whole of our life’s, as far as thought and control of behavior are concerned. This, of course is not full evidence that this is so, but it does show that we may not be driven by any soul stuff at all. The book as a whole was a pleasure to read as I found support for some of my own ideas I’ve been developing. I look forward to reading sometime in the future her further exploration of morality in Braintrust. The book would definitely be of interest for anyone looking for tidbits of information on how the brain produces our most intimate selves, not just the perception type of investigating, which I do not care for much. It is a good book for someone wanting or willing to give up some form of dualism that he or she has and dip into materialism. Page numbers are the pagination in the kindle version, and the italics in quotes are Churchland’s.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Stefanos

    Books like touching a nerve are difficult to find.It touches on a hard-to-access topic, full of technical jargon and many sensitive issues and yet, manages to be surprisingly comprehensible, highly educative on a wide range of topics, respectful on delicate matters and all in all a very entertaining read.The main subject is the science of the brain and how the three-pound mass of jelly (as Ramachandran likes to put it) was engineered by evolution and how it makes us who we are.Patricia Chrurchla Books like touching a nerve are difficult to find.It touches on a hard-to-access topic, full of technical jargon and many sensitive issues and yet, manages to be surprisingly comprehensible, highly educative on a wide range of topics, respectful on delicate matters and all in all a very entertaining read.The main subject is the science of the brain and how the three-pound mass of jelly (as Ramachandran likes to put it) was engineered by evolution and how it makes us who we are.Patricia Chrurchland makes clear that neuroscience is a field in it’s infancy and many issues remain unkown, nevertheless it has already offered us great insight and we could only be optimistic about it’s future. In the book she discusses dualism,’after-death’ experiences, the evolution of morality and aggression, self-control, free will, habits, unconscious cognition, sleeping and consciousness.There is a lot in here. There are three implicit messages, Patricia Churchland makes, that i particularly appreciated.The first, spans throughout the book, is a powerful case against the traditional philosophical inquiry about the questions of morality, free will, consciousness and human nature that is wholly based on pure reason and introspection; and instead shows how much we can learn from neuroscience.The second being against the view,few philosophers hold, that “we’ll never understand consciousness” which is groundless and unproductively pessimistic.Surely,we will never understand it if we won’t try.The third is, mostly addresses to us, laypeople, and the fear that learning about the brain would somehow belittle our existence and everything we hold dear and throw us in nihilism. A view i consider to be completely unsound.Neuroscience simply shows us that we were not what we thought we were.Heliocentrism and evolution told us that we are not in the center of the universe,nor separate from animalia.Likewise neuroscience told us, among others, that we are the product of our brains, not immaterial souls and that this is the only life we have.At first, these may be unsettling thoughts but really...they do not affect anything truly important. We can still love, appreciate the aesthetic, live meaningful and moral lives, positively affect the world and additionally have the pleasure of knowing and overcoming our ignorance. If only i weren’t a biased prick that confuses unfamiliarity to content with it’s quality i would give it five stars.So engaging and intriguing.Truly worth reading!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Yaaresse

    DNF. Saw the author on The Colbert Report, so knew her position on "self" being completely electrical/chemical quantifiable response and that she doesn't believe there is a non-quantifiable part of human existence. Still, I thought it might be interesting to see what neurobiologists have learned lately about our gray matter in spite of not agreeing with her POV. I might have gotten through that aspect of the book, but found the lack of focus (OMG, the tangents were all over the place) and the en DNF. Saw the author on The Colbert Report, so knew her position on "self" being completely electrical/chemical quantifiable response and that she doesn't believe there is a non-quantifiable part of human existence. Still, I thought it might be interesting to see what neurobiologists have learned lately about our gray matter in spite of not agreeing with her POV. I might have gotten through that aspect of the book, but found the lack of focus (OMG, the tangents were all over the place) and the endless similes annoying. There's just too many other books out there on the subject to invest more time in trying to slog through this one. _________________ Note: Usually I don't affix a star rating to books on my DNF/abandoned list. That said, I make exceptions if A) I've gotten more than 1/3 of the way through the book before giving up, and/or B) I thought the book especially inane, insufferable or just plain old awful. ________________

  16. 5 out of 5

    Hemen Kalita

    In the book, the author identifies herself as a Naturalist (monist) and argues against the popular, though declining, notion of Dualism, ie, Mind- Brain duality. But the book doesn’t appear to adhere to this central idea and reads like any other popular book on neurology. It is a mix of average to good science liberally sprinkled with her long anecdotes and unconvincing pet theories. She has her own hypothesis on nearly everything- from Free will to Genocide and from Morality to Self Control, bu In the book, the author identifies herself as a Naturalist (monist) and argues against the popular, though declining, notion of Dualism, ie, Mind- Brain duality. But the book doesn’t appear to adhere to this central idea and reads like any other popular book on neurology. It is a mix of average to good science liberally sprinkled with her long anecdotes and unconvincing pet theories. She has her own hypothesis on nearly everything- from Free will to Genocide and from Morality to Self Control, but I couldn’t digest any of it. I found the book less authoritative and more opinionated. The author is a ‘neuro-philosopher’, A philosopher who also studies the brain. I think the term is a bit deceptive because she is not that into neuroscience as I couldn’t find any citation of her work in the book or on the internet

  17. 5 out of 5

    Antonia

    Excellent in both content and the style. I most enjoyed the chapters detailing the neural processes that underlie consciousness. Churchland takes issue with both those who claim that consciousness has been explained and those who say it can never be explained. She conveys a good sense of the complexity involved, but believes that piece by piece, much more will be learned in time. Consider how far we've come in the past 50 years. She’s very down to earth, yet a graceful and lucid writer, and not Excellent in both content and the style. I most enjoyed the chapters detailing the neural processes that underlie consciousness. Churchland takes issue with both those who claim that consciousness has been explained and those who say it can never be explained. She conveys a good sense of the complexity involved, but believes that piece by piece, much more will be learned in time. Consider how far we've come in the past 50 years. She’s very down to earth, yet a graceful and lucid writer, and not without humor. (To quote her own advice to scientists, she "put the hay down where the goats can get it.") I thought she gave short shrift to the subject of free will and dismissing but not really addressing the “self illusion” proponents.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Joyita

    This book covers a vast spectrum of complex topics pertaining to the brain in a gracefully lucid fashion. While the workings of the brain are still poorly understood, the findings of the last 50 years or so add up to something substantial. Churchland discusses topics like consciousness, hidden cognition, sex, agreession, morality and more from a neuroscientific perspective, with frequent detours to the realms of philosophy. Overall this is a most enjoyable read. On a different note, her musings This book covers a vast spectrum of complex topics pertaining to the brain in a gracefully lucid fashion. While the workings of the brain are still poorly understood, the findings of the last 50 years or so add up to something substantial. Churchland discusses topics like consciousness, hidden cognition, sex, agreession, morality and more from a neuroscientific perspective, with frequent detours to the realms of philosophy. Overall this is a most enjoyable read. On a different note, her musings from her childhood sometimes reminded me of the voice of Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Fred Forbes

    "I am my brain, soul and all" is the central premise of this book and her observations pretty well back up that assertion. An interesting journey through current issues in neuroscience but written for the lay audience in entertaining fashion. Want to treat your brain to an interesting discussion of what is consciousness, identity, mind and free will? How do genetics and evolution impact the traits that humans exhibit? Grab a copy and you will be well rewarded. "I am my brain, soul and all" is the central premise of this book and her observations pretty well back up that assertion. An interesting journey through current issues in neuroscience but written for the lay audience in entertaining fashion. Want to treat your brain to an interesting discussion of what is consciousness, identity, mind and free will? How do genetics and evolution impact the traits that humans exhibit? Grab a copy and you will be well rewarded.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Richard Cytowic

    See my full review of Touching a Nerve in the NY Journal of Books. Basically, Canadian farm girl turned philosopher throws curve balls at the establishment. You go! See my full review of Touching a Nerve in the NY Journal of Books. Basically, Canadian farm girl turned philosopher throws curve balls at the establishment. You go!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Shinta

    This book is a very readable exposition of the idea of (non)-self, written for lay people. If you want some neuroscience-based books, find something else, e.g. Damasio, Metzinger, Panksepp, Ramachandran.

  22. 4 out of 5

    John Mulholland

    This book was not what I expected. As a psychology read it was good,I was looking for a Neurology approach to the brain.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Max

    This book is billed as philosophy but it's just Churchland reporting the results of neuroscientists. It reads like an opinionated blog post by a vanilla atheist, with frequent personal digressions, overlaid onto pop-sci brain factoids, with an implicit but not developed claim that everything humans do is brain-based. It's neither personal enough to be touching, nor rigorous enough to be convincing, nor deep enough to even qualify as anything but reporting on a sports team (brain scientists pract This book is billed as philosophy but it's just Churchland reporting the results of neuroscientists. It reads like an opinionated blog post by a vanilla atheist, with frequent personal digressions, overlaid onto pop-sci brain factoids, with an implicit but not developed claim that everything humans do is brain-based. It's neither personal enough to be touching, nor rigorous enough to be convincing, nor deep enough to even qualify as anything but reporting on a sports team (brain scientists practicing methodological naturalism) and saying they'll probably win the big championship of explaining life, the universe, and everything. The thing is, she's not a player, just a reporter. She has nothing to add to the discussion but moral support for those practicing perfectly vanilla brain science. She points out the naturalist approach has done well so far, gives some simplified instances of their work, and assures us they'll probably go all the way. I don't call this neuroscience OR philosophy, let alone "neurophilosophy". She's just a reporter on neuroscience at best, and more a denier of philosophy than a practitioner. The basic pattern of each chapter is "What is (main topic of human interest, such as sexuality or aggression) really? Here are some ways brain damage can disturb functioning in this area. Here is far more tedious technical information about peptide chains etc than you require in order for me to make my point that 'the brain is closely involved'. Still, it's all very complicated and we don't know exactly what causes what, doubtless making you wonder why I belaboured it so much. Anyway, surely the proper course of action is the middle way, namely thinking exactly like me and being an eliminative materialist, even though that's a minority position even among materialists." The only opponents she addresses in the book are people like those who claim to be helping profoundly autistic children to communicate with their parents by pressing their fingers down on keyboards to say things like "I love you mommy". To put it mildly, this is not honestly addressing the strongest criticisms of eliminative materialism. The book has the intellectual depth of a high school biology textbook. Specific gripes: She admits, on page 56, to have nothing to say about the hard problem. Presumably if this were put on the book jacket, sales would have plummeted. She does go on for pages about how we'll probably explain it though, sounding to me very much like a medieval Catholic saying theologians would probably eventually explain why bad things happen to good people, not seeing that "explain it" and "explain it under my belief system" are two very different things. The hard problem is only hard under materialism. Look at the world as Bernardo Kastrup or Donald Hoffman do, and it evaporates. The theory of illusionism has been criticized for absurdity, but, reading this book, I almost longed for something with its ambition and scope, chutzpah and daring. I don't think Churchland even has a grasp of what consciousness is, in the "why are the lights on" sense, beyond having access to information, in the same way a computer might. She mocks Chalmers for declaring consciousness mysterious without doing experiments, giving me the impression she has "scientist envy", not willing to honour the value of thinking in itself. Chalmers' framing of the "hard problem" helped many clarify their thought -- Churchland barely has thought worthy of the name, at least that I could find in this book, beyond "Meh, it's probably all physical. Look at all the stuff that has been so far." She says that the body is paralyzed during sleep, hence the common nightmare where you can't run or yell. So how to explain our normal ability to walk and talk in dreams? She also mentions, in the context of addressing NDEs, about how she feels subjectively like she's floating after yoga, but knows her body isn't moving. Does she think dreams and NDEs involve physical bodies moving around in 3d space? I don't know how else to interpret these two odd passages. Can she even mentally accomodate the proposition that something might exist, or at least be perceptible, but not be physical? She says most people probably don't believe in the free will denied by thinkers like Sam Harris (though she doesn't mention him by name), but bases this on her random convos with random people. Most Americans believe in God. Her definition of free will, as something like self control afaict, seems to be applicable to cybernetic systems to me. Does she think most of these theistic Americans think computers have free will? Is coming to a half-hearted conclusion based on random convos really worthy of a professional career? Churchland says something like "There's no evidence of people being aware of things without paying attention" (paraphrase, I forget the exact wording), but never mentions blindsight, though this book came out in 2013. This book is nothing, just another shallow popsci summary of other people's work masquerading as philosophy. Read Metzinger instead.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Terry

    After recently completing her new book, Conscience: The Origins of Moral Intuition, I discovered via an old 2013 email, that I had read this book 6 years ago and really liked it too. I wrote then to a philosopher major friend: Enjoyed P. Churchland book, Touching a nerve. She addresses well the question I have posed to you a couple times - how did/do all those old philosophers cope w/ neuro-science, genetics, evolution, etc insights on (moral) behavior, free-will. Not very well she says. I enjoy he After recently completing her new book, Conscience: The Origins of Moral Intuition, I discovered via an old 2013 email, that I had read this book 6 years ago and really liked it too. I wrote then to a philosopher major friend: Enjoyed P. Churchland book, Touching a nerve. She addresses well the question I have posed to you a couple times - how did/do all those old philosophers cope w/ neuro-science, genetics, evolution, etc insights on (moral) behavior, free-will. Not very well she says. I enjoy her writing. It reflects her small town background (Canada), her age (mine) plus she has some candid stories of her own 'bad' behavior that she uses to illustrate the unseen forces that operate on our decision making. The other interesting book I have also discusses the different views of morality by the philosophers - The righteous mind : why good people are divided by politics and religion, Jonathan Haidt. He points out that Kant (to a lesser degree) and Bentham would be diagnosed as Asperberger (based on a systemizer and empathizer scales), which explains to him their non-intuitive moral views. Haidt explains that Conservatives despite their backwardness w/ needed societal changes, tap into and provide a great tribal cohesiveness (admittedly at the expense of individual expression) necessary for cultures/tribes to survive. Religion, military, Mormons, etc. rely on people being brainwashed into doing things not to to their best interests but helpful to the tribe as a whole.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Heidi

    This is a gently written book about the way our selves and our brains are understood. It looks at the philosophical concepts and the anatomical realities and the scientific explorations of how our brains work. She intersperses stories of her childhood in a farming village as illustrations of certain scientific concepts - from the reaction to pain to gender identity and beyond. It's philosophical science and enjoyable if you like either type of book. An example I found interesting is how our brai This is a gently written book about the way our selves and our brains are understood. It looks at the philosophical concepts and the anatomical realities and the scientific explorations of how our brains work. She intersperses stories of her childhood in a farming village as illustrations of certain scientific concepts - from the reaction to pain to gender identity and beyond. It's philosophical science and enjoyable if you like either type of book. An example I found interesting is how our brains solve the "What is moving?" problem - ie how it determines whether we are moving or something we're seeing is moving. She describes the anatomy and the theory and how it relates to other parts of the brain. It's one small bit of our larger perception of the world. Read as an Audiobook from Libby and the SF Public Library.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Cathy Bogart

    A good book - but more of an integration with cognitive science would have enhanced it. Also, the description of the P300 waveform in the last chapter was not totally accurate - the P300 does not occur when presented with an "unexpected stimulus." It occurs in response to a target stimulus presented in the midst of random stimuli - typically when the target stimulus occurs about 20% of the time. In the earlier research, in which I was a contributor, the P300 was thought to be a neurological mark A good book - but more of an integration with cognitive science would have enhanced it. Also, the description of the P300 waveform in the last chapter was not totally accurate - the P300 does not occur when presented with an "unexpected stimulus." It occurs in response to a target stimulus presented in the midst of random stimuli - typically when the target stimulus occurs about 20% of the time. In the earlier research, in which I was a contributor, the P300 was thought to be a neurological marker of attention - the person had to attend to the target stimulus for it to occur.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Heathyr

    Very accessible for those who are not versed in philosophy or neuroscience. I found it tedious for that reason, but overall it was good. She provides a good debunking of Cartesian dualism, so anyone who still subscribes to dualism should read this :) It doesn't seem like she puts forth any new arguments in this book, it's more a synthesis of others' work on how the concept of self and personhood is generated neurally. Very light read. Very accessible for those who are not versed in philosophy or neuroscience. I found it tedious for that reason, but overall it was good. She provides a good debunking of Cartesian dualism, so anyone who still subscribes to dualism should read this :) It doesn't seem like she puts forth any new arguments in this book, it's more a synthesis of others' work on how the concept of self and personhood is generated neurally. Very light read.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Will

    Quite a good book, if lacking in specific information I quite liked this book. It seemed to be a decent argument for understanding the mind and put conscious mind as products of the brain. I had a couple qualms however. Firstly the amount of specific information about brain processes was lacking but we could chalk that up to the book being meant for audiences with no knowledge of the brain. I would have also liked to see more discussion about free will.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Bob Miller

    I felt my understanding of chemical (hormonal) components of consciousness is supported by another researcher. Also, there was a brief discussion of both chemical and electrical processes involved in the propagation of neuron signals, in cells and across synapse. Indications of the functions and organization of key structures in the brain provide support to some theories of consciousness and debunk others. A good mix of technical detail and a layman perspective.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Spraying Bricks

    Spraying Bricks Book Club #2: All-in-all the book didn't fare that well. The consensus seemed to be that the book lacked any real substance and only scratched the surface of neurophilosophy. The opinions that became more of a 'matter-of-factness' seem to just stem from the author's own experiences growing up and lacked any empathy for anything outside of this realm. However, the part on chromosomes and gender development within the womb was interesting but again felt like it was short-lived...as Spraying Bricks Book Club #2: All-in-all the book didn't fare that well. The consensus seemed to be that the book lacked any real substance and only scratched the surface of neurophilosophy. The opinions that became more of a 'matter-of-factness' seem to just stem from the author's own experiences growing up and lacked any empathy for anything outside of this realm. However, the part on chromosomes and gender development within the womb was interesting but again felt like it was short-lived...as far as I'm aware there was no follow-up book. Very vanilla.

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