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Bennett and Hacker: Village Idiots or Philosophers?

Eray Ozkural exa erayo at bilkent.edu.tr
Tue Feb 10 06:12:35 EST 2004

I was writing about the failure of insisting on a "singular point of
view" in dealing with the mind, in a discussion with Neil W. Rickert.

I got this "Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience" book by Bennett
and Hacker from the library, it is an unnecessarily thick book which
is meant to be a dismissal of entire neuroscience simply by worship of
Wittgenstein. Now, that's a singular point of view!

My stomach could tolerate reading only the foreword and introduction.
Here is a quote from the introduction which I found very lively. It
doesn't need any comments. Have fun reading it. Emphasis not mine,
they are by the village idiots.

Talk of the brain's perceiving, thinking, guessing or believing, or of
one hemisphere of the brain's knowing things of which the other
hemisphere is ignorant, is widespread among contemporary
neuroscientists. ... But that is quite mistaken...
Neuroscience can investigate the neural conditions and concominants of
the acquisition, possession and exercise of sentient powers by
animals. It can discover the neural preconditions for the possibility
of the exercise of distinctively human powers of thought and
reasoning, of articulate memory and imagination, of emotion and
volition... What it *cannot* do is *replace* the wide range of
ordinary psychological explanations of human activities in terms of
reasons, intentions, purposes, goals, values, rules and conventions by
neurological explanations... And it *cannot* explain how an animal
perceives or thinks by reference to the brain's, or some part of the
brain's, perceiving or thinking.
In Part II we investigate the use of concepts of perception, memory,
mental imagery, emotion and volition in current neuroscientific
theorizing. From case to case we show that conceptual unclarity -
failure to give adequate attention to the relevant conceptual
structures - has often been the source of theoretical error and the
grounds for misguided inferences. It is an error, a *conceptual*
error, to suppose that perception is a matter of apprehending an
*image* in the mind (Crick, Damasio, Edelman), or the production of a
hypothesis (Helmholtz, Gregory), or the generation of a *3-D* *model*
*description* (Marr). It is confused, a *conceptual* confusion - to
formulate the binding problem as the problem of combining data of
shape, colour and motion to form the *image* of the object perceived
(Crick, Kandel, Wurtz). It is wrong, *conceptually* wrong, to suppose
that memory is always of the past, or to think that memories can be
*stored* in the brain in the form of the strength of synaptic
connections (Kandel, Squire, Bennett). And it is mistaken,
*conceptually* mistaken, to suppose that the investigation of thirst,
hunger and lust is an investigation into emotions (Rolls) or to think
that the function of the emotions is to inform us of our visceral and
musuloskeletal state.

The initial reaction such critical remarks may well be indignation and
incredulity. Ho can a flourishing science be fundamentally in


Their claims seem to be remarkably similar to those of certain well
established pseudo-scientists in these newsgroups, collectively known
as the behaviorist infestation.


Eray Ozkural

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