One of my colleagues here at CRB, Kathinka Evers, recently returned from Barcelona, where she participated in the lecture series, The Origins of the Human Mind:
PS: Why did you participate in this series?
KE: I was invited by the Centre for Contemporary Culture to present the rise of neuroethics and my views on informed materialism.
PS: Why were you invited to talk on these issues?
KE: My last book was recently translated into Spanish (Quando la materia se despierta), and it has attracted interest amongst philosophers and neuroscientists in the Spanish speaking world. In that book, I extend a materialist theory of mind, called “informed materialism,” to neuroethical perspectives, discussing, for example, free will, self-conceptions and personal responsibility.
PS: In a previous blog post I commented upon Roger Scruton’s critical attitude to neuroscientific analyses of subjects that traditionally belong to the social and human sciences. What’s your opinion on his criticism?
KE: Contemporary neuroscience can enrich numerous areas of social science. But the reverse is also true. The brain is largely the result of socio-cultural influences. Understanding the brain also involves understanding its embodiment in a social context. The social and neurobiological perspectives dynamically interact in our development of a deeper understanding of the human mind, of consciousness, and of human identity.
PS: Do you mean that the criticism presupposes a one-sided view of the development of neuroscience?
KE: I suspect that the criticism is not well-informed, scientifically, since it fails to take this neuro-cultural symbiosis into account. But it is not uncommon for philosophers to take a rather defensive position against neuroscientific attempts to enter philosophical domains.
PS: Was this tension noticeable at the meeting in Barcelona?
KE: Not really. Rather, the debate focused on how interdisciplinary collaborations have at last achieved what the theoretical isolationism of the twentieth century – when philosophy of mind was purely a priori and empirical brain science refused to study consciousness – failed to achieve: the human brain is finally beginning to understand itself and its own mind.
Kathinka Evers has developed a course in neuroethics and is currently drafting a new book (in English) on brain and mind.