Two heads: Paul and Patricia Churchland

Larissa MacFarquhar’s profile of Paul and Patricia Churchland’s “marriage devoted to the mind-body problem.” “One afternoon recently, Paul says, he was home making dinner when Pat burst in the door, having come straight from a frustrating faculty meeting. ‘She said, “Paul, don’t speak to me, my serotonin levels have hit bottom, my brain is awash in glucocorticoids, my blood vessels are full of adrenaline, and if it weren’t for my endogenous opiates I’d have driven the car into a tree on the way home. My dopamine levels need lifting. Pour me a Chardonnay, and I’ll be down in a minute.” ’ ”

Does science prove we aren’t free?

Are we free? In his review of Free: Why Science Hasn’t Disproved Free Will by FSU philosopher Alfred Mele, Daniel Dennett agrees with Mele that neuroscience gives the wrong answer. “The mistakes are so obvious that one sometimes wonders how serious scientists could make them. What has lowered their threshold for careful analysis so catastrophically? Perhaps it is the temptation of glory. What a coup it would be if your neuroscience experiment brought about the collapse of several millennia of inconclusive philosophising about free will! A curious fact about these forays into philosophy is that almost invariably the scientists concentrate on the least scientifically informed, most simplistic conceptions of free will, as if to say they can’t be bothered considering the subtleties of alternative views worked out by mere philosophers.”

Both free and determined?

The more we understand about the world and especially our brains, the more it seems that our decisions are determined by forces — our genes, our neurons, our upbringing, for example — that are beyond our control. And yet we experience making choices. In “The Benefits of Binocularity,” Erik Parens explains the “better way to go about trying to understand what sorts of beings we are is to see ourselves as both free subjects and as determined objects, and to accept that we aren’t wired for seeing ourselves in both ways at once. Using either lens alone can lead to pernicious mistakes.”

Precognitive police

“Predictive policing could help prevent crime. But do we want a future where computer oracles and spies track us from birth?” Probably not, according to Henrick Karoliszyn. Consider this scenario: “I am walking down the street and a mobile brain scan looks at my brain along with a picture of a training camp in Afghanistan. If I’ve not been there, I’m sent happily on my way. But if I have, my brain lurches a certain way, I’m taken off the street and carted off to Guantánamo and detained indefinitely as a potential enemy combatant.” Would that be moral?

An Oxford philosopher thinks he can distill all morality into a formula

He is not the first philosopher to think so, but he “is thought by many to be the most original moral philosopher in the English-speaking world.” Larissa Macfarquhar’s profile of Derek Parfit. 

(Until July 21, only subscribers had access to this article on The New Yorker‘s website. It may go back behind the paywall when the magazine sets up a “metered paywall” in Fall 2014.)

A marriage devoted to the mind-body problem

Two heads … a very interesting profile of Paul and Patricia Churchland, the mind-body problem generally, and the revolutionary neuroscience they dream of …

Paul and Pat, realizing that the revolutionary neuroscience they dream of is still in its infancy, are nonetheless already preparing themselves for this future, making the appropriate adjustments in their everyday conversation. One afternoon recently, Paul says, he was home making dinner when Pat burst in the door, having come straight from a frustrating faculty meeting. “She said, ‘Paul, don’t speak to me, my serotonin levels have hit bottom, my brain is awash in glucocorticoids, my blood vessels are full of adrenaline, and if it weren’t for my endogenous opiates I’d have driven the car into a tree on the way home. My dopamine levels need lifting. Pour me a Chardonnay, and I’ll be down in a minute.’ ”

(Until July 21, only subscribers had access to this article on The New Yorker‘s website. It may go back behind the paywall when the magazine sets up a “metered paywall” in Fall 2014.)


Could you have done otherwise?

The implications of the free will debate.   Interesting discussion by FSU philosopher Alfred Mele of what neuroscience does and doesn’t tell us about free will. “An important implication of the free will debate – that is, the actual debate taking place in scientific and scholarly books and articles and in books and articles for the general public – is that we can easily be misled by scientific findings if we don’t interpret them carefully. When we pay attention to details, we see that the neuroscientific challenge to free will is misguided.”

Anorexia, brain activity, and hormones in the womb.

Anorexia visible with brain scans and womb hormones ‘lead to anorexia’.  These two articles are of interest with respect to the mind-body problem and the question of how much is up to you. Are the brains of persons with eating disorders different because they have eating disorders, or do they have eating disorders because their brains are different? Or is this a confused question because there is only the brain? And is your brain programmed in the womb?