9.140 two book reviews

Humanist (mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Fri, 1 Sep 1995 16:50:23 -0400 (EDT)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 9, No. 140.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)

[1] From: Willard McCarty <mccarty@epas.utoronto.ca> (29)
Subject: mind, body, brain

Two reviews in a recent Times Literary Supplement (no. 4821, 25 August) will
be of interest to many Humanists.

Daniel C. Dennett, "Our vegetative soul: The search for a reliable model of
the human self", rev. of Descartes' Error: Emotion, reason, and the human
brain, by Antonio R. Damasio (Neurology, Univ. of Iowa College of Medicine):
"not many factual novelties here for those who have been staying abreast of
this literature [on the mind and consciousness by neuroscientists and
psychologists].... but Damasio has woven some familiar if undervalued facts
together into a vision of the brain and its parts that really makes sense,
biologically, psychologically and philosophically" (p. 3). This appears to
be a very good way for those of us who are interested in such topics to
catch up on what's been happening.

Jerry Fodor, "West Coast fuzzy: Why we don't know how minds work", rev. of
The Engine of Reason, the Seat of the Soul: Philosophical journey into the
brain, by Paul M. Churchland. With much wit and humour, Fodor destroys the
argument of a book he reports as a naughty "hyperoptimistic account of the
current situation in 'cognitive neuroscience' [which does not] represent
anything like the consensus view among practitioners". Essentially Fodor's
view is that in "the idiom of grant proposals and of interviews in the
Tuesday New York Science Times" Churchland asserts that we know many things
which we do not in fact know. "The breakthrough is at hand; this time we've
got it right; theory and practice will be forever altered... further funding
is required..." &c. &c. It would be very useful to hear Churchland's reply
to this review. Meanwhile we can enjoy Fodor's candor about our ignorance,
which seems highly plausible to me. Isn't the discovery of what we do not
know (in a scientific sense) the real point of the exercise?