Touching a Nerve by Patricia S. Churchland
The Self as Brain

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It is refreshing to read serious intellectual material that is free of clotted, academic jargon. Illustrative examples from Dr. Churchland’s farm village life are charming, incisive, and persuasive.
-NY Journal of Books

Synopsis

A trailblazing philosopher’s exploration of the latest brain science—and its ethical and practical implications.


What happens when we accept that everything we feel and think stems not from an immaterial spirit but from electrical and chemical activity in our brains? In this thought-provoking narrative—drawn from professional expertise as well as personal life experiences—trailblazing neurophilosopher Patricia S. Churchland grounds the philosophy of mind in the essential ingredients of biology. She reflects with humor on how she came to harmonize science and philosophy, the mind and the brain, abstract ideals and daily life.

Offering lucid explanations of the neural workings that underlie identity, she reveals how the latest research into consciousness, memory, and free will can help us reexamine enduring philosophical, ethical, and spiritual questions: What shapes our personalities? How do we account for near-death experiences? How do we make decisions? And why do we feel empathy for others? Recent scientific discoveries also provide insights into a fascinating range of real-world dilemmas—for example, whether an adolescent can be held responsible for his actions and whether a patient in a coma can be considered a self.


Churchland appreciates that the brain-based understanding of the mind can unnerve even our greatest thinkers. At a conference she attended, a prominent philosopher cried out, “I hate the brain; I hate the brain!” But as Churchland shows, he need not feel this way. Accepting that our brains are the basis of who we are liberates us from the shackles of superstition. It allows us to take ourselves seriously as a product of evolved mechanisms, past experiences, and social influences. And it gives us hope that we can fix some grievous conditions, and when we cannot, we can at least understand them with compassion.

 

About Patricia S. Churchland

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Patricia S. Churchland is a professor emerita of philosophy at the University of California, San Diego. The recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship for her work in neurophilosophy, she lives in San Diego.
 
Published July 22, 2013 by W. W. Norton & Company. 305 pages
Genres: Nature & Wildlife, Professional & Technical, Science & Math, Law & Philosophy, Health, Fitness & Dieting. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for Touching a Nerve
All: 3 | Positive: 3 | Negative: 0

NY Journal of Books

Good
Reviewed by Richard Cytowic on Feb 17 2014

It is refreshing to read serious intellectual material that is free of clotted, academic jargon. Illustrative examples from Dr. Churchland’s farm village life are charming, incisive, and persuasive.

Read Full Review of Touching a Nerve: The Self as... | See more reviews from NY Journal of Books

Kirkus

Excellent
on May 02 2013

Wide-ranging, insightful and provocative—a book to savor.

Read Full Review of Touching a Nerve: The Self as... | See more reviews from Kirkus

NY Journal of Books

Good
Reviewed by Richard Cytowic on Jul 22 2013

It is refreshing to read serious intellectual material that is free of clotted, academic jargon. Illustrative examples from Dr. Churchland’s farm village life are charming, incisive, and persuasive.

Read Full Review of Touching a Nerve: The Self as... | See more reviews from NY Journal of Books

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