Philosophy and Neuroscience: Philosophy 422

Spring, 1997

Professor: William Bechtel
Office:Busch 208
Telephone: 935-6873
Office Hours: Thursday, 2-4 PM, and by appointment

I. Course Description

We are nearing the end of the decade of the brain, making this a good time to take stock of philosophical issues arising in neuroscience. The roots of many contemporary research endeavors and controversial questions in neuroscience are found much earlier in its history; accordingly, this course will focus on the historical roots of neuroscience as well as its contemporary developments. The topics we take up will fall into two categories: philosophy of science questions about the explanatory strategies scientists have employed in studying the brain, the nature of the explanations neuroscientists advance, and the credibility of the evidence for these explanations, and philosophy of mind questions concerning how developments in neuroscience influence our conception of mind.

II. Course Requirements

This class will be conducted primarily as a seminar. That means that students are responsible for all readings and for taking an active role in seminar discussions. In addition, each student is expected to do two class presentations on assigned readings from the list below. These presentations are not to be long and detailed--rather, they should focus attention on issues the presenter takes to be important, and to provoke discussion. They should not attempt to provide a detailed overview of what was in the reading.

In addition to the class presentations, students will need to write two papers, both of which may, but need not, arise from class presentations. The first paper, due February 28, should be a short paper, approximately 5-7 pages in length. The second paper, due May 6, should be a somewhat more ambitious paper, approximately 10-12 pages in length. The first paper should deal explicitly with an issue discussed in the first half of the seminar. The second paper may focus on a topic raised in the second half of the seminar, or, with permission of the instructor, pursue a topic related to but not covered in the seminar. The first paper will count for 35% of the final grade, the second paper for 65%; the overall grade may be raised or lowered to reflect extraordinary or deficient participation in the seminar.

III. Readings and Schedule of Classes

Introductory Materials (selections from the World Wide Web)

January 14: Introductory Session:

Part I. The Neural Architecture

January 21: The neuron controversy

January 28 and February 4: Mapping the brain

February 4: Evolution of the brain

Part II. Structure/Function Mapping

February 11 and 18: Deficits and Lesion Studies

February 25: Double-dissociations

March 11: Stimulation Studies

March 18: Single Cell Recording

March 25: Imaging the Brain

Part III. Simulating the Brain

April 1: Early Efforts

April 8: Recent Developments

Part IV. Models of the Relation of Neuroscience and Psychology

April 15: Reduction and Eliminativism

Part V. Representations in the Brain

April 22: What counts as representations in the brain?

April 29: The Binding Problem