Some Sour Fruits of Popular Science

A friend of the podcast pointed me to today’s column in the NYTimes Gray Matter by Alisa Quart about a backlash against neuroscience, particularly popular accounts of it throughout mainstream media from Malcom Gladwell on tipping points to Chris Mooney on the “republican brain” to Eben Alexander on the neuroscience of heaven. These all follow […]

Contemporary Neuroscience and Free Will

Contemporary neuroscience is not a challenge to free will, according to Eddy Nahmias: Most scientists who discuss free will say the story has an unhappy ending—that neuroscience shows free will to be an illusion. I call these scientists “willusionists.” … Willusionists say that neuroscience demonstrates that we are not the authors of our own stories […]

Zen and the Brain

Watch on Vimeo One way to naturalize Buddhism is to discern the moral lessons it might offer after shedding its metaphysics. Another way is to scrutinize the physiological effects of its practices. As Owen Flanagan explained on PEL’s first “naturalized Buddhism” episode, not all Buddhist sects practice meditation. But of course, many do, particularly within the […]

Anesthesia and Consciousness

Neuroscientists are using anesthesia to study consciousness in a way that seems related to higher order theories of consciousness. The conclusion so far: “consciousness emerges from the integration of information across large networks in the brain”: Over the past few years, other EEG studies have supported the idea that anesthesia doesn’t simply shut the brain down […]

The Problem of Determining Free Will

Free will is always a sticky wicket. On the one hand, we make decisions every day that point to our having a say in what we do. Accountability, in general, relies on this notion. On the other hand, whatever our will is, it is clearly constrained: we can’t will away gravity. Free will is a […]

Magnetic Morality Modulation

This September, PBS will re-broadcast an interesting episode of NOVA ScienceNOW, which touches on some points raised in PEL’s interview with Patricia Churchland. The episode demonstrates a procedure called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), which can influence a person’s moral judgments as they are being made, simply by messing with the neural activity located within the brain’s Right TemporoParietal […]

Scruton on Philosophy vs. Neuroscience

The talk is somewhat misleadingly titled “Roger Scruton – Persons and their Brains”, but what he’s really concerned to do is point out the limits of neuroscience and justify a place for philosophy in the study of human behavior.  Not sure if that’s a straw man or not, but he has some critical things to […]

David Eagleman and Daniel Dennett on Free Will and Neuroscience

Wes’s recent post on David Eagleman led to my listening to the Philosophy Bites episode interviewing him. Eagleman’s point here is that the criminal justice system assumes a model of free will that is unsustainable given what we know about neurology, and he gives examples like a normal guy with no apparent deviant impulses suddenly […]

David Eagleman on the Neuroscience and the Unconscious

Terry Gross has an interesting interview with neuroscientist David Eagleman, author of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain (Incidentally, if you’re in Boston you can catch him at Harvard Bookstore on Friday). Eagleman’s book is about, among many other things, the neuroscience of unconscious processes and their importance to our behavior (something of the […]

“The Nation” on Brooks on Cognitive Neuroscience

We’ve bashed NY Times columnist David Brooks before on this blog for his attempts at philosophy, and I absolutely feel for the guy from a logistical perspective: he’s not an academic that can take a sabbatical and hole up to write and revise. He’s more or less a blogger who has to fumble around every […]

Hegel vs. Eliminative Materialism in Neuroscience

Paul and Patricia Churchland are researchers and advocates of eliminative materialism in neuroscience and philosophy of mind. Eliminative materialism claims that everyday concepts such as the beliefs, feelings, and desires we attribute to each other are illusions of what we should refer to as “folk psychology.” They believe not only that these concepts are destined […]