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This school was known as behaviourism. According to its pioneers, such as John B. Watson and B. Skinner , no scientific approach to psychology could be built on subjective states, which are essentially private. In contrast, their new psychology would be based not on personal judgments about feelings and states of mind, but solely on the experimental study of behaviour.

With unobservable mental processes thus excluded from the field of scientific psychology, notions such as consciousness and the concepts associated with it became devoid of interest.

Consciousness and the Representational Theory of Mind: Overview of the Philosophical Debate

The behaviourists did, nevertheless, make many useful discoveries, in particular concerning the operant conditioning of behaviour, in experiments with rats and pigeons. Obviously, this school of psychology was extremely focused on the influence of our environment on our mental processes. Watson even went so far as to state that the human mind is shaped entirely by the rewards and punishments that its receives from the environment, and not by any genetic influences. How am I? During this same period when the behaviourists were active—the midth century—the series of conferences mentioned at the start of this section gave rise to a new school of thought known as cybernetics follow the Tool module link to the left.

Cybernetics looks at the way that information circulates both in living organisms and in complex artificial systems designed by human beings. Hence it is no surprise that computer science, in its infancy at the time, drew much inspiration from cybernetics. At the same time, linguistics was also developing into a genuine scientific discipline, dedicated to one of the most sophisticated human mental abilities: language.

In the s, critiques of behaviourism by linguists such as Noam Chomsky revealed its shortcomings when it came to studying complex phenomena such as human language. These attacks dealt just as harsh a blow to behaviourism as the writings of Watson had to structuralism earlier in the century. In short, as all of these new disciplines cybernetics, computer science, linguistics, etc.

The philosopher Daniel Dennett compares the classical model of consciousness to a stage in a theatre. The part of the stage that is in the spotlight would represent that which is conscious. This model therefore implies the presence of a spectator who can tell what part of the stage is lit—in other words, what the content of consciousness is at any given time. Because who is going to enable this spectator to become conscious of the part of the stage that is lit, if not another spectator sitting inside his head, and so on to infinity?

But the brain is not known to contain any one control centre analogous to this homunculus. The neurosciences indicate that instead, there are countless interconnected neuronal assemblies , and that most of their activity remains unconscious. One important part of the scientific method is to formulate an initial hypothesis, then attempt to invalidate it by conducting appropriately designed experiments.

To attempt to invalidate the Cartesian-theatre model of consciousness, scientists would therefore try to conduct experiments demonstrating that consciousness is not an all-or-nothing event but can rather take intermediate forms and hence is a variable. How might they do so? First of all, by trying to find at least one other possible state of consciousness, because the defining characteristic of a variable is that it can vary! And indeed, this is why there have been so many neuroscientific experiments designed to detect mental processes that are unconscious or partially conscious.

An example of the application of this approach in another discipline would be the discovery of near-zero gravity in space compared with terrestrial gravity. Indeed, it was by imagining gravity with different magnitudes and directions that Newton was able to solve the age-old problem of the movement of the stars. Discovering conditions for comparisons has even unlocked the door to entire scientific disciplines such as biology species are not fixed, but vary over geologic time , earth science the positions of the continents are not stable but instead drift , etc.

And just like the study of consciousness, all of these breakthroughs encountered staunch opposition in their own time. In this popular view, consciousness is seen as a container for ideas and images, with a window onto the world for purposes both of perceiving it and of taking action in it. Philosopher Daniel Dennett takes vigorous exception to this model see sidebar.

A list of the characteristics of this model of consciousness would look something like this:. As neuroscientists acquired more and more data about the workings of the brain , this model came in for more and more criticism, in particular because it makes so little allowance for all of the behaviours that we carry out unconsciously. Nowadays, in fact, the counter-reaction has reached the point that journals on consciousness are filled with reports on experiments demonstrating the presence of unconscious processes in the brain.

But why so much insistence on the search for unconscious processes?

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In the history of science, many important breakthroughs have come when something that was previously assumed to be a constant for example, gravity, or atmospheric pressure was ultimately proved to be a variable see sidebar. But is it really? With the classical model of consciousness, as with any other model, the scientific method is to try to invalidate it, to see, for example, whether it can be proven incorrect in certain respects, such as whether unconscious processes exist, or whether a mental representation can become conscious gradually, rather than all at once.

This is why so many neurobiologists are trying to demonstrate the existence of unconscious mental processes in perception, thought, and action, and they are succeeding in doing so. Because the classical model of consciousness leaves no room for unconscious processes, every successful scientific demonstration of their existence demonstrates a flaw in this model. And these flaws are so numerous that this model is on the verge of collapsing. The central idea of eliminative materialism is that old theories can be eliminated by new, more relevant ones to account for the progress of science.

The history of science is full of problems that were once considered unsolvable and for which a better explanation was later found. For example, heat was long regarded as one of those phenomena that would never be explained, until scientists came to understand what molecules were, and how molecules that move more rapidly cause higher temperatures. The same thing happened with chromosomes. At the start of the 20th century, no one could imagine how these large molecules, which all seemed to look alike, could possibly contain the maps for the entire organism in all its complexity.

It was not until the structure of DNA was discovered by James Watson and Francis Crick in the early s that scientists could crack the genetic code and clarify what had been regarded as a mystery scarcely 50 years earlier. Eliminative materialists believe that just as a clearer understanding of the mechanisms of life itself was thus derived from a better understanding of the details of molecular mechanics and of the replication and transcription of DNA and its translation into protein , so neurobiological models of consciousness will become clearer as scientists gradually develop a better understanding of the details relevant to this problem.

To continue with this analogy that is often drawn between the explanation of life and the explanation of consciousness, if life comes down to chemistry, then consciousness comes down to a form of neuronal activity in the brain, and our mental objects are therefore neuronal objects. Needless to say, eliminative materialists harshly criticize functionalists , who believe that a knowledge of the human brain is of no use for understanding human cognition.

By providing this capability, these techniques are what has really enabled the neurosciences to become part of the cognitive sciences. Researchers in the cognitive neurosciences see box to the right have attempted to draw connections between mental states which are perceived, felt, and hence subjective and neural states which are physical states of the brain and hence observable and measurable.

The cognitive neurosciences thus operate from a clearly materialist perspective and hence are the target of criticism by other philosophical schools. But the fact is that a scant few decades ago, the neurosciences were just one branch of the cognitive sciences, which in turn were focused largely on the goals of research into artificial intelligence.

Now the neurosciences are at the very centre of the cognitive sciences. But the s saw an explosion of scientific enthusiasm for such initiatives, in large part because of research in the neurosciences and the accessibility of increasingly high-performance devices for imaging the brain follow the Tool Module link to the left.


As a result, attitudes about studying the neurobiological bases of consciousness have changed dramatically. This ferment of new ideas has given rise to many neurobiological theories of consciousness that often have some key concepts in common. The figure below attempts to illustrate these commonalities. At the centre of the circle are the names of some important authors of such theories, while around the outside are some key concepts that are shared with minor variations by the two authors or sets of authors whose names appear adjacent to them.


One thing is certain: concepts from the neurosciences are now enabling us to go beyond the classical model of consciousness and avoid its flaws and shortcomings. Some scientists ascribe genuine importance to this subjective aspect of consciousness, but add that if consciousness is to be investigated effectively, better methods of interpreting the relevant subjective data will have to be found. Other scientists attempt to minimize the importance of the subjective nature of human consciousness.

Francis Crick , for example, believes that only once we have managed to understand the neurobiological mechanisms of consciousness will we be in a position to understand its subjective qualia , and that until then we therefore should not accord them too much importance. This is a common strategy in science: concentrate on the things that are more amenable to experimentation, while hoping that those which are less so will subsequently become clearer in light of the experimental results obtained.

Changeux clearly posits a causal relationship between the structure of the brain and the function of thought. From this relationship, it follows that consciousness is the result of interactions among neurons in which the nerve impulse takes a path that could ideally be described objectively.

And this path, it must be remembered, is not fixed, but instead alters itself with use , thus constantly modifying our representations of the world. The similarities that the main neurobiological theories of consciousness share with regard to certain concepts are also seen in the neuronal circuits and brain structures that these theories identify as playing a key role in conscious thought. Obviously, not all parts of the brain participate equally in conscious processes. There are, for example, numerous unconscious processes that take place beneath the cortex and have no conscious counterpart.

It is therefore important to stress that the cognitive neurosciences do not attempt to analyze the functioning of these structures in isolation, but rather to understand the orderly functioning of the brain as a whole, at the most integrated level possible—that is, at the level where ion channels , receptor s , synapses , neurons , and neuronal assemblies all come into play collectively and simultaneously.

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When philosophers impatiently point out that the models of consciousness proposed by the neurobiologists are still unclear, the neurobiologists freely admit that they are only in the early stages of a long struggle to penetrate the mysteries of consciousness. T hey also point out that in scientific research, investigators must begin by looking for correlations between observations before they start inferring any causal mechanisms see sidebar.

Christof Koch is a good example of a neurobiologist who applies this gradualist approach, conducting experiments on the most elementary forms of attention. He hopes that once we understand them, the problems that now seem unsolvable will become much simpler.

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Like many other neurobiologists, Koch acknowledges that we may have to discover some new laws governing the physical world before we can explain consciousness, and that it may even remain a mystery forever. But the scientists of the future will have to make that judgment, which he says they can do only after all empirical avenues of inquiry have been exhausted if such a thing is possible. And it is not only neurobiologists who take exception to the view of David Chalmers that consciousness is such a hard problem that it is beyond the reach of neuroscience to solve.

Some philosophers too, of whom the most representative are probably Paul and Patricia Churchland , find it counterproductive to treat human consciousness as a special case, distinct from all the other problems involved in understanding the human mind. Simply put, the concepts of popular psychology that we use to explain our mental states intentions, beliefs, desires, etc. And according to Patricia Churchland, the fact that it is currently very hard for us to imagine a solution to the problem of consciousness tells us absolutely nothing about whether or not this phenomenon can actually be explained.

In her view, it is too easy to conclude that a phenomenon such as consciousness is inexplicable simply because current human psychology cannot grasp it. To really understand what is meant by the cognitive neurosciences, one must recall that until the late s, the various fields of brain research were still tightly compartmentalized. Brain scientists specialized in fields such as neuroanatomy, neurohistology, neuroembryology, or neurochemistry.

Nobody was yet working with the full range of investigative methods available, but eventually, the very complexity of the subject at hand made that a necessity. Today, the neurosciences include disciplines such as neurophysiology the functioning of the neurons , neuroanatomy the anatomical structure of the nervous system , neurology the clinical effects of pathologies of the nervous system , neuropsychology the clinical effects of pathologies of the nervous system on cognition and emotions , and neuroendocrinology the relations between the nervous system and the hormonal system , and research centres tend to house several such disciplines under the same roof in order to encourage ongoing exchanges and joint publications.

Our aim is that each chapter will be authored by someone intimately familiar with the relevant research who also has the pedagogical expertise for conveying the fine nuances of that topic in straightforward language. To allow for the widest possible participation we are soliciting chapter proposals with a preference for authors currently engaged in teaching the material they hope to write about.

If you are interested in taking part in this project, we kindly ask that you consult the book proposal, select a chapter or multiple chapters you would like to contribute, and provide us with a one page skeletal outline of the sections and topics you propose covering in that chapter, as well as a brief abstract for the chapter. The chapter outline should conform to the generic chapter outline provided in the book proposal — included below. First Page. Brief outline of topics covered — paragraph box. Key terms and definitions — side bar. Section 1: Introduction.

Historical overview. Background theories. Historical development. Section 2: Contemporary Issues. Section 3: Future Directions. Summary of Key Ideas. Further readings. Discussion topics. We would also appreciate it if you could provide us with a list of key terms and suggested further readings that you intend to use in your chapter. Along with the abstract and outline, please submit a CV.

It is possible that this project will include an online supplementary website. In order to determine the feasibility of this website, please let us know in your chapter proposal whether you would be willing to provide content for this website in addition to the chapter. Such content may include lecture slides, study guides, possible exam questions, or other content.

We welcome feedback on the project, including whether you would use this textbook in your future courses. Please email submissions to benjaminyoung unr. The textbook will offer a comprehensive overview of a wide range of contemporary topics that are relevant to the study of mind. Each chapter will situate current philosophical research and neuroscientific findings within historically relevant debates in philosophy of cognitive science.

By situating cutting-edge research within the theoretical trajectory of the field, students will gain a fundamental understanding of the cognitive neurosciences, as well as the progressive nature of the field. To enable this level of detail, each chapter will be written by experts in their area of specialization. The textbook will be modeled upon scientific textbooks, making it accessible to a wide audience without presupposing a background in philosophy or neuroscience. Philosophy textbooks do not adequately mirror the scientific progression from cognitive science to neuroscience.

Over the past few decades there has been a vast increase in the number of philosophers studying theoretical issues in neuroscience and applying them to topics in cognitive science, yet the textbooks have not kept up. Philosophy of cognitive science textbooks are outdated with little to no treatment of the relevant neuroscience. Not only are the current textbooks on offer frustratingly inadequate, none of them include detailed coverage of the full range ofcontemporary topics.

With the increased interest in the philosophy ofneuroscience there is a tremendous need for a new textbook. The increased number of philosophers working in the philosophy of neuroscience has been mirrored by a growing interdisciplinary interest in what philosophers can offer science students studying the mind.

Consciousness - Wikipedia

The textbook would be geared towards interdisciplinary students yet designed for use in rigorous philosophy courses. The textbook will make it possible to teach a cohort of both philosophy and interdisciplinary science students without assuming a prior understanding of philosophical concepts or familiarity with neuroscience.

Currently there is no textbook geared to this interdisciplinary population at the necessary level of specialization, but to make matters worse the textbooks on offer are not comprehensive in the range of topics that are covered. One individual cannot be a specialist in all areas of the scientific domains relevant to the philosophical study of cognitive neuroscience. To circumvent this problem, the proposed textbook will be a compilation of the top research in each topic area, with each chapter written by a specialist on that topic.

To control for coherence, the collection will be copyedited for a cohesive voice and each chapter will follow a prescribed format.