Bright Air, Brilliant Fire: On The Matter Of The Mind

Gerald M. Edelman - 1992
    Nobel laureate Gerald M. Edelman takes issue with the many current cognitive and behavioral approaches to the brain that leave biology out of the picture, and argues that the workings of the brain more closely resemble the living ecology of a jungle than they do the activities of a computer. Some startling conclusions emerge from these ideas: individuality is necessarily at the very center of what it means to have a mind, no creature is born value-free, and no physical theory of the universe can claim to be a ”theory of everything” without including an account of how the brain gives rise to the mind. There is no greater scientific challenge than understanding the brain. Bright Air, Brilliant Fire is a book that provides a window on that understanding.

What Should We Do with Our Brain? (Que faire de notre cerveau?)

Catherine Malabou - 2004
    Our brains exist as historical products, developing in interaction with themselves and with their surroundings. Hence there is a thin line between the organization of the nervous system and the political and social organization that both conditions and is conditioned by human experience. Looking carefully at contemporary neuroscience, it is hard not to notice that the new way of talking about the brain mirrors the management discourse of the neo-liberal capitalist world in which we now live, with its talk of decentralization, networks, and flexibility. Consciously or unconsciously, science cannot but echo the world in which it takes place. In the neo-liberal world, 'plasticity' can be equated with 'flexibility'—a term that has become a buzzword in economics and management theory. The plastic brain would thus represent just another style of power, which, although less centralized, is still a means of control. In this book, Catherine Malabou develops a second, more radical meaning for plasticity. Not only does plasticity allow our brains to adapt to existing circumstances, it opens a margin of freedom to intervene, to change those very circumstances. Such an understanding opens up a newly transformative aspect of the neurosciences. In insisting on this proximity between the neurosciences and the social sciences, Malabou applies to the brain Marx's well-known phrase about history: people make their own brains, but they do not know it. This book is a summons to such knowledge.Collection: Perspectives in Continental Philosophy

The Physics Of Consciousness: The Quantum Mind And The Meaning Of Life

Evan Harris Walker - 2000
    Now there is a clear trail to the answer, and it leads through the dense jungle of quantum physics, Zen, and subjective experience, and arrives at an unexpected destination. In this tour-de-force of scientific investigation, Evan Harris Walker shows how the operation of bizarre yet actual properties of elementary particles support a new and exciting theory of reality, based on the principles of quantum physics-a theory that answers questions such as "What is the nature of consciousness, of will?" "What is the source of material reality?" and "What is God?"

Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living

Humberto R. Maturana - 1973
    It demands a radical shift in standpoint, an almost paradoxical posture in which living systems are described in terms of what lies outside the domain of descriptions. Professor Humberto Maturana, with his colleague Francisco Varela, have undertaken the construction of a systematic theoretical biology which attempts to define living systems not as they are objects of observation and description, nor even as in teracting systems, but as self-contained unities whose only reference is to them selves. Thus, the standpoint of description of such unities from the 'outside', i. e., by an observer, already seems to violate the fundamental requirement which Maturana and Varela posit for the characterization of such system- namely, that they are autonomous, self-referring and self-constructing closed systems - in short, autopoietic systems in their terms. Yet, on the basis of such a conceptual method, and such a theory of living systems, Maturana goes on to define cognition as a biological phenomenon; as, in effect, the very nature of all living systems. And on this basis, to generate the very domains of interac tion among such systems which constitute language, description and thinking."

Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity

Raymond Tallis - 2011
    He suggests that seeing ourselves as animals may lead us to find reasons for treating others as less than human.

Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind

Evan Thompson - 2007
     Thompson draws upon sources as diverse as molecular biology, evolutionary theory, artificial life, complex systems theory, neuroscience, psychology, Continental Phenomenology, and analytic philosophy to argue that mind and life are more continuous than has previously been accepted, and that current explanations do not adequately address the myriad facets of the biology and phenomenology of mind. Where there is life, Thompson argues, there is mind: life and mind share common principles of self-organization, and the self-organizing features of mind are an enriched version of the self-organizing features of life. Rather than trying to close the explanatory gap, Thompson marshals philosophical and scientific analyses to bring unprecedented insight to the nature of life and consciousness. This synthesis of phenomenology and biology helps make Mind in Life a vital and long-awaited addition to his landmark volume The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience (coauthored with Eleanor Rosch and Francisco Varela). Endlessly interesting and accessible, Mind in Life is a groundbreaking addition to the fields of the theory of the mind, life science, and phenomenology.

The Robot's Rebellion: Finding Meaning in the Age of Darwin

Keith E. Stanovich - 2004
    Richard Dawkins, for example, jolted us into realizing that we are just survival mechanisms for our own genes, sophisticated robots in service of huge colonies of replicators to whom concepts of rationality, intelligence, agency, and even the human soul are irrelevant.Accepting and now forcefully responding to this decentering and disturbing idea, Keith Stanovich here provides the tools for the "robot's rebellion," a program of cognitive reform necessary to advance human interests over the limited interest of the replicators and define our own autonomous goals as individual human beings. He shows how concepts of rational thinking from cognitive science interact with the logic of evolution to create opportunities for humans to structure their behavior to serve their own ends. These evaluative activities of the brain, he argues, fulfill the need that we have to ascribe significance to human life. We may well be robots, but we are the only robots who have discovered that fact. Only by recognizing ourselves as such, argues Stanovich, can we begin to construct a concept of self based on what is truly singular about humans: that they gain control of their lives in a way unique among life forms on Earth—through rational self-determination.

Matter and Consciousness: A Contemporary Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind

Paul M. Churchland - 1984
    This new edition incorporates the striking developments that have taken place in neuroscience, cognitive science, and artificial intelligence and notes their expanding relevance to philosophical issues.Churchland organizes and clarifies the new theoretical and experimental results of the natural sciences for a wider philosophical audience, observing that this research bears directly on questions concerning the basic elements of cognitive activity and their implementation in real physical systems. (How is it, he asks, that living creatures perform some cognitive tasks so swiftly and easily, where computers do them only badly or not at all?) Most significant for philosophy, Churchland asserts, is the support these results tend to give to the reductive and the eliminative versions of materialism."A Bradford Book"

The Tangled Wing: Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit

Melvin Konner - 1982
    Since then, revolutions have taken place in genetics, molecular biology, and neuroscience. All of these innovations have been brought into account in this greatly expanded edition of a book originally called an "overwhelming achievement" by The Times Literary Supplement. A masterful synthesis of biology, psychology, anthropology, and philosophy, The Tangled Wing reveals human identity and activity to be an intricately woven fabric of innumerable factors. Melvin Konner's sensitive and straightforward discussion ranges across topics such as the roots of aggression, the basis of attachment and desire, the differences between the sexes, and the foundations of mental illness.

Becoming Human: A Theory of Ontogeny

Michael Tomasello - 2018
    Here, Michael Tomasello proposes a complementary theory of human uniqueness, focused on development. Building on the seminal ideas of Vygotsky, his data-driven model explains how those things that make us most human are constructed during the first years of a child's life.Tomasello assembles nearly three decades of experimental work with chimpanzees, bonobos, and human children to propose a new framework for psychological growth between birth and seven years of age. He identifies eight pathways that starkly differentiate humans from their closest primate relatives: social cognition, communication, cultural learning, cooperative thinking, collaboration, prosociality, social norms, and moral identity. In each of these, great apes possess rudimentary abilities. But then, Tomasello argues, the maturation of humans' evolved capacities for shared intentionality transform these abilities--through the new forms of sociocultural interaction they enable--into uniquely human cognition and sociality. The first step occurs around nine months, with the emergence of joint intentionality, exercised mostly with caregiving adults. The second step occurs around three years, with the emergence of collective intentionality involving both authoritative adults, who convey cultural knowledge, and coequal peers, who elicit collaboration and communication. Finally, by age six or seven, children become responsible for self-regulating their beliefs and actions so that they comport with cultural norms.Becoming Human places human sociocultural activity within the framework of modern evolutionary theory, and shows how biology creates the conditions under which culture does its work.

Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension

Andy Clark - 2008
    Feynman himself, however, insisted that the notes were not a record but the work itself. In Supersizing the Mind, Andy Clark argues that our thinking doesn't happen only in our heads but that "certain forms of human cognizing include inextricable tangles of feedback, feed-forward and feed-around loops: loops that promiscuously criss-cross the boundaries of brain, body and world." The pen and paper of Feynman's thought are just such feedback loops, physical machinery that shape the flow of thought and enlarge the boundaries of mind. Drawing upon recent work in psychology, linguistics, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, robotics, human-computer systems, and beyond, Supersizing the Mind offers both a tour of the emerging cognitive landscape and a sustained argument in favor of a conception of mind that is extended rather than "brain-bound." The importance of this new perspective is profound. If our minds themselves can include aspects of our social and physical environments, then the kinds of social and physical environments we create can reconfigure our minds and our capacity for thought and reason.

Conversations on Consciousness: What the Best Minds Think about the Brain, Free Will, and What It Means to Be Human

Susan Blackmore - 2005
    The interviewees, ranging from major philosophers to renowned scientists, talk candidly with Blackmore about some of the key philosophical issues confronting us in a series of conversations that are revealing, insightful, and stimulating. They ruminate on the nature of consciousness (is it something apart from the brain?) and discuss if it is even possible to understand the human mind. Some of these thinkers say no, but most believe that we will pierce the mystery surrounding consciousness, and that neuroscience will provide the key. Blackmore goes beyond the issue of consciousness to ask other intriguing questions: Is there free will? (A question which yields many conflicted replies, with most saying yes and no.) If not, how does this effect the way you live your life; and more broadly, how has your work changed the way you live?Paired with an introduction and extensive glossary that provide helpful background information, these provocative conversations illuminate how some of the greatest minds tackle some of the most difficult questions about human nature.

Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience

Maxwell Richard Bennett - 2003
     Surveys the conceptual problems inherent in many neuroscientific theories. Encourages neuroscientists to pay more attention to conceptual questions. Provides conceptual maps for students and researchers in cognitive neuroscience and psychology. Written by a distinguished philosopher and leading neuroscientist. Avoids the use of philosophical jargon. Constitutes an essential reference work for elucidation of concepts in cognitive neuroscience and psychology.

Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature

Alva Noë - 2015
    But what if the objects themselves are not what matter? In Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature, the philosopher and cognitive scientist Alva Noë argues that our obsession with works of art has gotten in the way of understanding how art works on us.For Noë, art isn’t a phenomenon in need of an explanation but a mode of research, a method of investigating what makes us human—a strange tool. Art isn’t just something to look at or listen to—it is a challenge, a dare to try to make sense of what it is all about. Art aims not for satisfaction but for confrontation, intervention, and subversion. Through diverse and provocative examples from the history of art-making, Noë reveals the transformative power of artistic production. By staging a dance, choreographers cast light on the way bodily movement organizes us. Painting goes beyond depiction and representation to call into question the role of pictures in our lives. Accordingly, we cannot reduce art to some natural aesthetic sense or trigger; recent efforts to frame questions of art in terms of neurobiology and evolutionary theory alone are doomed to fail.By engaging with art, we are able to study ourselves in profoundly novel ways. In fact, art and philosophy have much more in common than you might think. Reframing the conversation around artists and their craft, Strange Tools is a daring and stimulating intervention in contemporary thought.

Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy: How Music Captures Our Imagination

Robert Jourdain - 1997
    In clear, understandable language, Jourdian expertly guides the reader through a continuum of musical experience: sound, tone, melody, harmony, rhythm, composition, performance, listening, understanding—and finally to ecstasy. Along the way, a fascinating cast of characters brings Jourdian's narrative to vivid life: "idiots savants" who absorb whole pieces on a single hearing, composers who hallucinate entire compositions, a psychic who claims to take dictation from long-dead composers, and victims of brain damage who can move only when they hear music. Here is a book that will entertain, inform, and stimulate everyone who loves music—and make them think about their favorite song in startling new ways.