A new interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary journal, the Journal of Neurophilosophy, published its first issue this past summer.
The journal “is dedicated to supporting interdisciplinary exploration of Philosophy and its relation to the nervous system” and aims to offer “critical analysis from the best of the neuroscience and philosophy literature all around the world, presented by the pioneer neuroscientists and (neuro)philosophers to help promote a better comprehension of NeuroPhilosophy.” It takes as its “most important goal” to “offer answers [to] ancient philosophical questions in the light of neuroscience with fresh, groundbreaking perspectives.”
Edited by Patricia Churchland (University of California, San Diego) and Sultan Tarlacı (Üsküdar University), the open-access journal will publish not just peer-reviewed original research articles, but also opinion pieces, review articles, commentaries, book reviews, as well as articles that explain ideas of neuroscience to philosophers and ones that explain ideas of philosophy to neuroscientists. There is no submission fee.
The journal aims to cover a range of topics as they relate to neurophilosophy, including cognitive science, ethics, aesthetics, free will, spirituality, quantum mechanics, biology, artificial intelligence, psychology, and more. “Neurophilosophy,” Professor Churchland writes
explores the impact of discoveries in neuroscience on a range of traditional philosophical questions about the nature of the mind. This subfield aims to move forward on questions such as the nature of knowledge and learning, decision-making and choice, as well as self-control and habits, by drawing on data from the relevant sciences—not only neuroscience and clinical neurology, but also evolutionary biology, experimental psychology, behavioral economics, anthropology, and genetics. It draws also on lessons from the history of philosophy and the history of science.
That’s from her “What is Neurophilosophy and How Did Neurophilosophy Get Started?” in the journal’s inaugural issue.
Bringing the sciences into philosophy, she says, is a needed corrective to certain philosophical approaches:
[S]ome philosophers of mind believe that they own a problem space that is concerned with conceptual necessities—necessary truths about psychological states and processes, discovered by conceptual analysis and so-called ‘thought experiments’. A necessary truth cannot, according to this approach, be falsified by scientific data. Intuitions trump data. Scientists, not surprisingly, are puzzled by where such a priori knowledge might really come from, and they do not want to be bamboozled by philosophical flimflam. After all, intuitions appear to be just strongly held beliefs that are likely grounded in education and reinforcement learning. Intuitions are not, by anyone’s account, special reports from Plato’s Heaven concerning Absolute Truths. Philosophers are apt to defend their intuitions as supported by thought experiments about what could obtain in any possible world. Supposedly, the outcome of the ‘thought experiments’ will identify the necessary truths about, for example, the nature of knowledge. This is a suspect strategy. Recall that Kant thought he had shown by thought experiments that space—the space our Earth and solar system inhabit—is necessarily Euclidean. Alas, the Euclidean claim is not even true, let alone necessarily true. Space is non-Euclidean. Thought experiments, for all the homage paid to them by philosophers, are not real experiments in any sense. Starting an inquiry with intuitions is fine if that is all you have to go on, but then experiment and observation should subject those intuitions to test, and other hypotheses should be considered…
Theorizing is an important undertaking in the effort to advance knowledge and understanding of the world, including the world of the mind-brain. Philosophers are as welcome into the theorizing tent as anyon eelse, and certainly some philosophers have made important contributions in this domain. Clinging to outdated ideas concerning conceptual analysis and necessary truths impedes the progress that philosophers might otherwise make. In general, it is more rewarding to take account of existing data when trying to generate an explanatory theory of a phenomenon than to troll one’s intuitions for ‘necessary truths’, something the witty biologist Sir Peter Medawar (1979) suggested is the philosophical equivalent of‘psychokinetic’ spoon-bending.