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Touching a nerve

Patricia Churchland, W W Norton & Co, 30. August 2013, buy online


“Rock on Berti!” (Bertrand Russell). I like being able to cry at the ending of Anna Karenina and Dr. Schiwago, but I also enjoy shedding a tear or two after the final paragraphs of a well-written science book.


A close look at the inside of our skull

Neurophilosopher Patricia Churchland (according to Wikipedia an eliminative materialist), composes beautifully clear, straightforward sentences, and, in true story telling style, transports us to the cutting edge of neuroscience. I decided to finally read Patricia Churchland to protect myself against the temptations of quantum neuroscience, for which I have a strange liking that may well be more artistic than scientific.

The book (I actually listened to it as an audiobook while jogging and cleaning) summarizes the current state of neuroscience including the latest research into consciousness, memory, and free will, as Churchland examines their relationship to contemporary philosophical, ethical, and spiritual questions. There is nothing breathtakingly new to somebody who follows the field on a regular basis; for (neuro)scientists quite a bit is old hat, e.g. how neurons work. Yet it is written in such a comprehensible style that it rejuvenates and replenishes the old memory bank – very useful for science journalists.

There are a couple of topics I slightly disagree with, and I find her somewhat conservative (e.g. difference between man and woman). But I guess if I want a more visionary approach I should read science fiction.

I liked the way she ties her ideas to her upbringing on a farm, bringing highflying neurophilosophical thoughts down to earth. My attention wandered when it came to paragraphs obviously directed at science-skeptics. I guess this is directed more towards US readers. In short: a great (audio-)book for anybody, especially laypeople interested in a good overview of neuroscience. Rock on Pat.

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