Tuesday, March 22, 2011

What is Patricia Churchland reading?

Today's featured contributor at Writers Read: Patricia S. Churchland, author of Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us about Morality.

The entry begins:
Frank Dikotter’s book, Mao’s Great Famine, lately finished, taught me a great deal about how cruel, arrogant and pig-headed was Mao (apologies to pigs), and how death by starvation of tens of millions of Chinese could have been averted had a few fawning underlings been willing to...[read on]
Among the early praise for Braintrust:
"Churchland guides the reader through lucid, well-articulated explanations of subjects like oxytocin's effect on an individual's hormonal makeup, brain changes over time, and relevant gene research, tying these neuroscientific elements together with more social science oriented areas like cooperation, trust, and rule creation.... In bringing together aspects of philosophy and neuroscience, Churchland presents a persuasive argument that morality is not shaped solely by religious or social forces but, instead, also draws on hormonal triggers, genes, and brain evolution. This influential work is likely to be a valuable resource for anyone seeking to gain a fresh, exciting perspective on an oft-discussed area of philosophy."
--Elizabeth Millard, ForeWord Reviews

"The book is about: morality, fairness and the source of both. But don't expect tight definitions of either term, let alone a didactic treatise on human evolution. Instead, sit back and let Churchland run her ideas past you. She's so chatty you'll never guess the University of California, San Diego, philosopher is associated with a school of thought called eliminative materialism. (Don't ask. Even a philosopher friend was fuzzy on the details.) She's just plain interesting."
--Leigh Dayton, Australian

"In its search for the origins of morality, this book deftly balances philosophical questions and an understanding of how the brain actually works. It is a rare combination, and extremely fruitful. Churchland roots morality firmly in the social emotions rather than in some abstract principles, yet shows us how and why these principles nevertheless emerge."
--Frans de Waal, author of Our Inner Ape and The Age of Empathy
Read an excerpt from Braintrust, and learn more about the book and author from the Princeton University Press website and Patricia S. Churchland's website.

Churchland is professor emerita of philosophy at the University of California, San Diego, and an adjunct professor at the Salk Institute. Her books include Brain-Wise and Neurophilosophy. In 1991, she was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship.

The Page 99 Test: Braintrust.

Writers Read: Patricia S. Churchland.

--Marshal Zeringue