Thursday, March 15, 2007

Paul and Pat Churchland on folk psychology

Via Will Wilkinson, the February 12, 2007 issue of The New Yorker has a nice profile of the Churchlands (PDF) which discusses their history and views on mind and brain (without once mentioning the term "eliminative materialism"):
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 my 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.’”
Wilkinson points out that he has adopted similar use of scientific language about physical states to describe his mental states, and agrees with the Churchlands that this enhances the ability to describe what he's feeling:
I think that once one gets a subjective grasp of the difference between the effects of dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, adrenaline, glucocorticoids, prolactin, testosterone, etc., monistic conceptions of pleasure and happiness become almost self-evidently false, and a kind of pluralism comes to seem almost inevitable as the trade-offs between different kinds of physical/qualitative states become apparent.
Wilkinson's blog post on the subject is here.

I was also interested to see that the Churchlands are advocates of using the evidence from neuroscience in ethical and legal contexts, which brings to mind Jeffrey Rosen's recent article in the New York Times (March 11, 2007) on "The Brain on the Stand."

1 comment:

Einzige said...

I know exactly what a serotonin deficit feels like, as well as an excess of adrenaline (and, having once been a teenaged boy, testosterone), but I wouldn't know the first thing about the subjective effects of any of the others listed.

Too bad Will didn't offer any pointers to resources for learning to tell differentiate between them.