Will understanding our brains help us to know our minds? Or is there an unbridgeable distance between the work of neuroscience and the workings of human consciousness? In a remarkable exchange between neuroscientist Jean-Pierre Changeux and philosopher Paul Ricoeur, this book explores the vexed territory between these divergent approaches--and comes to a deeper, more complex perspective on human nature.
Ranging across diverse traditions, from phrenology to PET scans and from Spinoza to Charles Taylor, What Makes Us Think? revolves around a central issue: the relation between the facts (or "what is") of science and the prescriptions (or "what ought to be") of ethics. Changeux and Ricoeur ask: Will neuroscientific knowledge influence our moral conduct? Is a naturally based ethics possible? Pursuing these questions, they attack key topics at the intersection of philosophy and neuroscience: What are the relations between brain states and psychological experience? Between language and truth? Memory and culture? Behavior and action? What is a mental representation? How does a sign relate to what it signifies? How might subjective experience be constructed rather than discovered? And can biological or cultural evolution be considered progressive? Throughout, Changeux and Ricoeur provide unprecedented insight into what neuroscience can--and cannot--tell us about the nature of human experience.
Changeux and Ricoeur bring an unusual depth of engagement and breadth of knowledge to each other's subject. In doing so, they make two often hostile disciplines speak to one another in surprising and instructive ways--and speak with all the subtlety and passion of conversation at its very best.
"The two thinkers lock horns about the grandest of issues: the nature of mind, brain, religion, art, morality, and consciousness... The broad terms of the debate and the erudition of the debaters provide considerable insight into how certain neuroscientists and philosophers attack enigmas that first occupied the ancient Greeks."--Howard Gardner, Chronicle of Higher Education "The mind-body problem, the origins and the ends of thought, the frontiers of brain research and the vexed relations among social norms, ethics and biological facts: all come under complicated scrutiny in this very informative volume..."--Publishers Weekly "Intoxicatingly dense and provocative."--Virginia Quarterly Review "These two amazing minds at work make for a fascinating look at the who, what, and how of thought."--Booklist "Two leading giants face off: the biologist Jean-Pierre Changeux, leading neuroscientist and author of Neuronal Man, and the philosopher Paul Ricoeur, eminent apostle of phenomenology and author of Living Metaphors. The two ... Develop ... a true exchange of ideas, breaking with the preemptory affirmations and unilateral critiques which have too often characterized relations between science and philosophy."--Gerard Badu, Le Nouvel Observateur "The materialist neurobiologist and the philosopher establish a no-holds-barred dialogue, which has resulted in a captivating book: often demanding, but always free of jargon. This exceptional initiative should be a milestone in the history of ideas."--Jean-Claude Escaffit, La Vie "A rich dialogue, insofar as the two men belong to divergent currents of thought ... neither a sham exchange of blows nor an intellectual compromise on either side... This exchange constitutes the most successful exercise of its type ... it throws the perspectives right open."--Yves Christen, Nouveaute "The French literati love bringing two leading figures from what would appear to be disparate fields together and jointly publishing essays on a chosen topic. This generally provides some fascinating point/counterpoint, and this work falls into the camp of exemplary discussions that result from this process... These two amazing minds at work make for a fascinating look at the who, what, and how thought happens."--Choice "Surprise! This dialogue between neuroscientist Changeaux and philosopher Ricoeur really is comprehensible. It works because both authors are well-rounded scholars committed to the clarity of expression ... General readers and professionals who are interested in science and philosophy, including brain surgeons, will enjoy it."--Choice "Despite their disparities, [Changeux and Ricour] manage to converse intensely and well. The dialogue benefits from each partner's ability to listen carefully and respond clearly, and also from the long perspective, based in intellectual history, each takes... Challenging and enlightening."--Carol Albright, The Christian Century "[A] real joy... [T]his debate has a richness that sometimes makes me despair of the aridities of classical Anglo-American cognitive psychology and philosophy of mind."--Steven Rose, New Scientist