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Bennett and Hacker: Village Idiots or Philosophers?

David Longley David at longley.demon.co.uk
Tue Feb 10 07:12:26 EST 2004

In article <fa69ae35.0402100312.46e9deb8 at posting.google.com>, Eray 
Ozkural  exa <erayo at bilkent.edu.tr> writes
>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

I haven't read it, but I will now (unless someone such as Glen, Wolf, 
Rolf etc suggest that it isn't worth it - I've read parts of Baker and 
Hacker's "Language, Sense & Nonsense" 1984 which was a hatchet job on 
theoretical linguistics and semantics). From what I've just read of the 
reviews of the new 2003 book, it looks like they may well cover some of 
the same issues which have been outlined and discussed in this newsgroup 
over recent months (if not years)



But then as several people have said here before, such concerns have 
been expressed by radical and evidential behaviorists for decades and 
yet people still ignore it in favour of clever sounding gobbledegook.
David Longley

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