Friday, September 17, 2010

Celebrating the Churchlands

Pat and Paul Churchland have officially retired from the philosophy department at UCSD, but Pat has assured me that they will continue to "haunt us" (her words). Eliminative materialist ghosts are the best kind.

If you haven't already seen it, be sure to read the 2007 New Yorker feature on the Churchlands (full text available here; abstract below) entitled "Two Heads". The article explains how the two are able to maintain psychic unity even at a distance-- it's a bit mysterious, but there is some perfectly reasonable materialist explanation, I can assure you.

On page 59 of the magazine is a fine picture of them together, hydra-like, taken by Steven Pyke and included in his series of portraits of famous philosophers, entitled Philosophers II (Pyke also took a portrait of Richard Arneson, which I mentioned in an earlier post). Pyke also took these beautiful portraits of their individuated avatars.

Larissa MacFarquhar. "Annals of Science, 'Two Heads', The New Yorker, Feb. 12, 2007, p. 58-69.

ABSTRACT: PROFILES of Paul and Patricia Churchland. Paul and Patricia Churchland are in their early sixties and are both professors of philosophy at the University of California at San Diego (U.C.S.D.). They have been talking about philosophy together since they met; they test ideas on each other and criticize each other’s work. Some of their ideas are quite radical. The guiding obsession of their lives is the mind-body problem, or how to understand the relationship between conscious experience and the brain. In the past, everyone was a dualist. Nowadays, few people doubt that the mind somehow is the brain. Paul and Pat Churchland believe that the mind-body problem will be solved not by philosophers but by neuroscientists. Describes Pat’s childhood and background; she attended the University of Pittsburgh, where she met Paul, and Oxford. Describes Paul’s background; as a child he was influenced by the science fiction novels of Robert Heinlein. Mentions Wilfrid Sellars. Describes their jobs as professors at the University of Manitoba in the early 1970s. Mentions Pat’s study of the “split brain.” Mentions Thomas Nagel’s “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” Pat disagreed with Nagel’s assertion that science could never understand consciousness. She also objected to the prevelant notion that neuroscience would never be relevant to philosophical concerns. In the early 1990s, Australian philosopher David Chalmers developed a theory of consciousness as a universal primitive, like mass or space. Mentions Francis Crick and the neuroscientist V. S. Ramachandran. These days, many philosophers give Pat credit for making the link between the mind-body problem and the brain. Pat and Paul are currently studying the implications of neuroscience for ethics and the law. Much of Paul’s work is focused far into the future. Both he and Pat like to speculate about a day when whole chunks of English are replaced by scientific words. As people learn to speak differently, they’ll learn to experience and think differently. Paul believes that someday language will disappear altogether and people will communicate by thought. If so, a philosopher might come to know what it’s like to be a bat.

Read more

No comments:

Post a Comment