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What Makes Us Think?: A Neuroscientist and a Philosopher Argue about Ethics, Human Nature, and the Brain

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In an exchange between neuroscientist Jean-Pierre Changeux and philosopher Paul Ricoeur, this book explores the vexed territory between these divergent approaches - and comes to a deeper, more complex perspective on human nature." "Ranging across diverse traditions, from phrenology to PET scans and from Spinoza to Charles Taylor, What Makes Us Think? revolves around a central issue: the relation between the facts (or "what is") of science and the prescriptions (or "what ought to...
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Overview

In an exchange between neuroscientist Jean-Pierre Changeux and philosopher Paul Ricoeur, this book explores the vexed territory between these divergent approaches - and comes to a deeper, more complex perspective on human nature." "Ranging across diverse traditions, from phrenology to PET scans and from Spinoza to Charles Taylor, What Makes Us Think? revolves around a central issue: the relation between the facts (or "what is") of science and the prescriptions (or "what ought to be") of ethics.
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Editorial Reviews

Carol Albright
Despite their disparities, the two manage to converse intensely and well. The dialogue benefits from each partner's ability to listen carefully and respond clearly, and also from the long perspective, based in intellectual history, each takes. The focus of the dialogue is neuroscience and its relevance to ethics.
Christian Century
Chronicle of Higher Education
The two thinkers lock horns about the grandest of issues: the nature of mind, brain, religion, art, morality, and consciousness. . . . The broad terms of the debate and the erudition of the debaters provide considerable insight into how certain neuroscientists and philosophers attack enigmas that first occupied the ancient Greeks.
— Howard Gardner
Virginia Quarterly Review
Intoxicatingly dense and provocative.
Booklist
These two amazing minds at work make for a fascinating look at the who, what, and how of thought.
Le Nouvel Observateur
Two leading giants face off: the biologist Jean-Pierre Changeux, leading neuroscientist and author of Neuronal Man, and the philosopher Paul Ricoeur, eminent apostle of phenomenology and author of Living Metaphors. The two . . . Develop . . . a true exchange of ideas, breaking with the preemptory affirmations and unilateral critiques which have too often characterized relations between science and philosophy.
— Gérard Badu
La Vie
The materialist neurobiologist and the philosopher establish a no-holds-barred dialogue, which has resulted in a captivating book: often demanding, but always free of jargon. This exceptional initiative should be a milestone in the history of ideas.
— Jean-Claude Escaffit
Nouveaute
A rich dialogue, insofar as the two men belong to divergent currents of thought . . . neither a sham exchange of blows nor an intellectual compromise on either side. . . . This exchange constitutes the most successful exercise of its type . . . it throws the perspectives right open.
— Yves Christen
Choice
Surprise! This dialogue between neuroscientist Changeaux and philosopher Ricoeur really is comprehensible. It works because both authors are well-rounded scholars committed to the clarity of expression . . . . General readers and professionals who are interested in science and philosophy, including brain surgeons, will enjoy it.
New Scientist
[A] real joy. . . . [T]his debate has a richness that sometimes makes me despair of the aridities of classical Anglo-American cognitive psychology and philosophy of mind.
— Steven Rose
The Christian Century
Despite their disparities, [Changeux and Ricour] manage to converse intensely and well. The dialogue benefits from each partner's ability to listen carefully and respond clearly, and also from the long perspective, based in intellectual history, each takes. . . . Challenging and enlightening.
— Carol Albright
Nouveauté

A rich dialogue, insofar as the two men belong to divergent currents of thought . . . neither a sham exchange of blows nor an intellectual compromise on either side. . . . This exchange constitutes the most successful exercise of its type . . . it throws the perspectives right open.
— Yves Christen
Chronicle of Higher Education - Howard Gardner
The two thinkers lock horns about the grandest of issues: the nature of mind, brain, religion, art, morality, and consciousness. . . . The broad terms of the debate and the erudition of the debaters provide considerable insight into how certain neuroscientists and philosophers attack enigmas that first occupied the ancient Greeks.
Le Nouvel Observateur - Gerard Badu
Two leading giants face off: the biologist Jean-Pierre Changeux, leading neuroscientist and author of Neuronal Man, and the philosopher Paul Ricoeur, eminent apostle of phenomenology and author of Living Metaphors. The two . . . Develop . . . a true exchange of ideas, breaking with the preemptory affirmations and unilateral critiques which have too often characterized relations between science and philosophy.
La Vie - Jean-Claude Escaffit
The materialist neurobiologist and the philosopher establish a no-holds-barred dialogue, which has resulted in a captivating book: often demanding, but always free of jargon. This exceptional initiative should be a milestone in the history of ideas.
Nouveauté - Yves Christen
A rich dialogue, insofar as the two men belong to divergent currents of thought . . . neither a sham exchange of blows nor an intellectual compromise on either side. . . . This exchange constitutes the most successful exercise of its type . . . it throws the perspectives right open.
The Christian Century - Carol Albright
Despite their disparities, [Changeux and Ricour] manage to converse intensely and well. The dialogue benefits from each partner's ability to listen carefully and respond clearly, and also from the long perspective, based in intellectual history, each takes. . . . Challenging and enlightening.
New Scientist - Steven Rose
[A] real joy. . . . [T]his debate has a richness that sometimes makes me despair of the aridities of classical Anglo-American cognitive psychology and philosophy of mind.
Le Nouvel Observateur - Gérard Badu
Two leading giants face off: the biologist Jean-Pierre Changeux, leading neuroscientist and author of Neuronal Man, and the philosopher Paul Ricoeur, eminent apostle of phenomenology and author of Living Metaphors. The two . . . Develop . . . a true exchange of ideas, breaking with the preemptory affirmations and unilateral critiques which have too often characterized relations between science and philosophy.
From the Publisher
"The two thinkers lock horns about the grandest of issues: the nature of mind, brain, religion, art, morality, and consciousness. . . . The broad terms of the debate and the erudition of the debaters provide considerable insight into how certain neuroscientists and philosophers attack enigmas that first occupied the ancient Greeks."—Howard Gardner, Chronicle of Higher Education

"The mind-body problem, the origins and the ends of thought, the frontiers of brain research and the vexed relations among social norms, ethics and biological facts: all come under complicated scrutiny in this very informative volume. . . ."Publishers Weekly

"Intoxicatingly dense and provocative."Virginia Quarterly Review

"These two amazing minds at work make for a fascinating look at the who, what, and how of thought."Booklist

"Two leading giants face off: the biologist Jean-Pierre Changeux, leading neuroscientist and author of Neuronal Man, and the philosopher Paul Ricoeur, eminent apostle of phenomenology and author of Living Metaphors. The two . . . Develop . . . a true exchange of ideas, breaking with the preemptory affirmations and unilateral critiques which have too often characterized relations between science and philosophy."—Gérard Badu, Le Nouvel Observateur

"The materialist neurobiologist and the philosopher establish a no-holds-barred dialogue, which has resulted in a captivating book: often demanding, but always free of jargon. This exceptional initiative should be a milestone in the history of ideas."—Jean-Claude Escaffit, La Vie

"A rich dialogue, insofar as the two men belong to divergent currents of thought . . . neither a sham exchange of blows nor an intellectual compromise on either side. . . . This exchange constitutes the most successful exercise of its type . . . it throws the perspectives right open."—Yves Christen, Nouveauté

"The French literati love bringing two leading figures from what would appear to be disparate fields together and jointly publishing essays on a chosen topic. This generally provides some fascinating point/counterpoint, and this work falls into the camp of exemplary discussions that result from this process. . . . These two amazing minds at work make for a fascinating look at the who, what, and how thought happens."Choice

"Surprise! This dialogue between neuroscientist Changeaux and philosopher Ricoeur really is comprehensible. It works because both authors are well-rounded scholars committed to the clarity of expression . . . . General readers and professionals who are interested in science and philosophy, including brain surgeons, will enjoy it."Choice

"Despite their disparities, [Changeux and Ricour] manage to converse intensely and well. The dialogue benefits from each partner's ability to listen carefully and respond clearly, and also from the long perspective, based in intellectual history, each takes. . . . Challenging and enlightening."—Carol Albright, The Christian Century

"[A] real joy. . . . [T]his debate has a richness that sometimes makes me despair of the aridities of classical Anglo-American cognitive psychology and philosophy of mind."—Steven Rose, New Scientist

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691009407
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 8/28/2000
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 5.87 (w) x 8.73 (h) x 1.02 (d)

Read an Excerpt




Chapter One


A Necessary Encounter


Knowledqe and Wisdom


Jean-Pierre Chanqeux: You are a well-known and admired philosopher. I am a scientist. My professional career has been devoted to the theoretical and experimental study of the elementary mechanisms involved in the functioning of the nervous system and, particularly, the human brain. If I seek to understand the brain by approaching it through its most microscopic structures, which is to say the molecules that compose it, this hardly excludes a desire to understand its highest functions, which traditionally come within the domain of philosophy: thought, the emotions, the faculty of knowledge, and, of course, the moral sense. As a molecular biologist I find myself confronted with a formidable problem: how to discover the relationship between these elementary molecular building blocks and highly integrated functions such as the perception of beauty and scientific creativity. After Copernicus, Darwin, and Freud there remains the conquest of the mind, one of the most formidable challenges facing science in the twenty-first century.

    Since the most ancient antiquity, philosophers have argued about what traditionally in France is called l'esprit—not l'Esprit with a capital E, or "Spirit," but what Anglo-American authors mean by "mind." Even though our respective positions may seem as far removed from each other as they could be, the encounter between philosophy and neurobiology seems to me not merely welcome but necessary. I have enormous admiration for your work. Ihave not found many authors in France—perhaps owing to the fault of my own ignorance—who have thought as deeply about the problems of morality and ethics as you have. Why should we not work together to try to construct a common discourse on these topics? Perhaps we shall not succeed. But our attempt will at least have the value of identifying points of agreement and, still more importantly, of exposing areas of disagreement and throwing into relief the gaps that one day or another will have to be filled.


Paul Ricoeur: I wish to respond to your words of welcome with an equally warm greeting addressed to a renowned man of science and the author of Neuronal Man, a work worthy of the closest and most respectful attention.

    What we are undertaking is a discussion, in the strong sense of the word. It is motivated first by a difference in our approach to the phenomenon of human life that has to do with our training, respectively, as a scientist and a philosopher. But it is motivated also by a desire, if not to resolve the differences related to this difference in our points of view, at least to raise them to a level of argumentation permitting the reasons of one to be regarded as plausible by the other, which is to say worthy of being defended in the context of an exchange governed by an ethic of debate—what the philosopher Jürgen Habermas calls Diskursethik.

    I want to make my position clear at the outset. I am a partisan of a current of European philosophy that contains three distinctive approaches, typically referred to as "reflective philosophy," "phenomenology," and "hermeneutics." The first approach, reflectivity, emphasizes the mind's attempt to recover its power of acting, thinking, and feeling—a power that has, so to speak, been buried or lost—in the knowledge, practices, and feelings that exteriorize it in relation to itself. Jean Nabert is the leading representative of this first branch of the tradition to which I belong.

    The second, phenomenology, refers to the ambition of going back "to things themselves," which is to say to the manifestation of what presents itself to experience as the least encumbered of all the constructions inherited from cultural, philosophical, and theological history. This concern, by contrast with the reflective approach, lays stress on the intentional dimension of theoretical, practical, and aesthetic life and defines all consciousness as a consciousness of something. Husserl is the eponymous champion of this branch.

    The third term, hermeneutics, refers to an approach that derives from the interpretive method applied first to religious texts (exegesis), classical literary texts (philology), and legal texts (jurisprudence), and stresses the plurality of interpretations associated with what may be called the reading of human experience. The masters of this third branch, which challenges the claim of any philosophy to be devoid of presuppositions, are Dilthey, Heidegger, and Gadamer.

    Henceforth I will use the generic term "phenomenology" to designate the philosophical tradition that I represent in this discussion in each of its three branches—reflective, descriptive, interpretive.


Changeux: In my case the experience of belonging to the world of scientific research, and more particularly of biological research, has profoundly influenced my thinking.

    While still quite young, as a student, I took part in what might be called the molecular biology movement. Its aim, in the 1960s, was to elucidate the structure and function of the molecules that are situated at the ultimate boundaries of life. This program met with success, as is well known, and led to further research. Certain of these molecules, called allosteric proteins, possess a crucial and dual feature: they serve, on the one hand, to determine a particular biological function, for example a chemical synthesis; on the other hand, they obey a signal that regulates this function. These proteins introduce flexibility into cellular life, acting as switches that help to coordinate the functions of the cell but also to promote the cell's adaptation to the conditions surrounding it. To understand in strictly physico-chemical terms biological functions that are essential to the life of the cell has been, and continues to be, the objective of a tradition of research of considerable scope and vitality with which I enthusiastically align myself.

    More unexpected was the demonstration that followed. The brain was shown to possess molecules that are very similar to these bacterial switches—receptors of chemical substances known as neurotransmitters that assist communication between nerve cells. Our cerebral functions, from the most modest to the most elevated, are also rooted in physico-chemical nature by virtue of the fact that they are mediated by these molecular switches.

    The extreme complexity of cerebral organization and its development became accessible to the methods of molecular biology by the end of the 1960s, opening up a second line of research. It was no longer possible to think of the brain as a computer composed of circuits prefabricated by the genes. To the contrary, connections between nerve cells are gradually established over the course of development by a process of trial and error. The selection and elimination of such connections are regulated to a substantial degree by the newborn infant's interaction with the environment and with itself. In short, the brain cannot be viewed as a strictly genetic machine; it incorporates, within a defined genetic envelope peculiar to the species, a series of nested "epigenetic" imprints that are established by variation and selection. Another way of stating this hypothesis is to say that evolutionary (epigenetic) competition inside the brain takes over from the biological (genetic) evolution of species and creates, as a consequence, organic links with the physical, social, and cultural environment. A very fruitful interface is produced in an entirely natural way, then, with the human sciences and society.

    A third line of research, so far theoretical for the most part, relies on the new methods of modeling made possible by computer technology to try to further exploit our still quite partial knowledge of the functional organization of the brain. It consists, for instance, in devising the simplest plausible neural architectures that constitute a formal, or artificial, organism capable of carrying out a defined cognitive learning task. Two features distinguish this approach. On the one hand, it is "neurorealist" in the sense that it appeals only to known elementary components of the brain, for example the molecular receptors of neurotransmitters I have already mentioned; on the other, it tries to define the minimal degree of complexity that a network of nerve cells capable of carrying out specifically human tasks must possess. The theoretical program consists in trying to give an account, in a rigorously formal way, of a behavior defined on the basis both of the anatomical organization of a network of nerve cells and of the activity that takes place in this network. This enterprise, known as connectionism, has illustrious antecedents: the cybernetics of Norbert Wiener, the universal computing machine conceived by Alan Turing, and the first neural network model developed by Warren McCulloch and Walter Pitts to represent the "embodiment of mind."

    As a member of the faculty of the Collège de France, I am required to present the current state of knowledge in my field, which is continually evolving, in a didactic form. Neuronal Man, to which you referred a moment ago, represented a synthesis of my first seven years of lectures. Its aim was to make the dazzling progress of the sciences of the brain more widely known. I realize today that this attempt to organize the available knowledge regarding the brain, from the molecule to mental activity, has had a powerful retroactive effect on my own conception of the brain and its functions. In this regard I share with René Thom the view that what counts in the modeling process is its ontological import, its impact on our conception of the origin of things and beings—in other words, its underlying philosophy. While writing Neuronal Man I discovered Spinoza's Ethics and the full rigor of his thought. "I shall consider human actions and appetites," Spinoza says, "just as if it were an investigation into lines, planes, or bodies." Can anything more exciting be imagined than to try to reconstruct human life in a way that rejects teleology, that rejects anthropocentrism, that rejects all conceptions of the world that take shelter in religious superstition—what Spinoza called the "refuge of ignorance"? This reading came to complete and enrich my acquaintance with the pre-Socratic philosophers. I have always been and remain still very attached to Democritus, in particular, among the ancient atomists.

    None of this suffices to explain the very marked interest I have in ethical questions, which led me to read your work Oneself as Another. The decisive event was a talk I gave on the neurosciences shortly after Neuronal Man appeared to a working group of the Comité Consultatif National d'Éthique dans les Sciences de la Vie et de la Santé, the committee that advises the French government on issues in bioethics. In the very lively debate that followed I found myself driven into a corner. How can neuronal man be a moral subject? I have not ceased since to reflect upon this question, to make a serious attempt to give new meaning to an ethics of the good life—a joyful, humanist ethics compatible with the free exercise of reason. It is this attempt that sparked my interest in talking with you today.

    The cleavage between scientists and philosophers is relatively recent. In antiquity, philosophers such as Democritus and Aristotle were also excellent observers of nature; mathematicians such as Thales and Euclid were philosophers as well. With the Hippocratics, a rational medicine grew up alongside the shamanistic medicine (or medicine not far removed from shamanistic traditions) that was still dominant in ancient Greece. Rationality came to be introduced into the domain of traditional medicine with the rejection of all assumptions of magical or divine intervention and the search for natural causes. The physician made a diagnosis and, on the basis of this, proposed a treatment, a course of medication. Instead of hunting demons, a pharmocological agent was now employed to attack material causes of illnesses. No longer a demiurge, the physician was now a rationalistic and scientific philosopher.

    The cleavage between scientists, philosophers, and artists occurred after the Renaissance, though one still finds during this period artist-scientists such as Leonardo cia Vinci and later, in the nineteenth century, a certain tradition of philosophical thought among scientists—I am thinking here, for example, of Augustin Cournot and Henri Poincaré and, more recently, Jacques Monod. On the other hand, a tradition off interest in scientific knowledge has been carried on in philosophy by William James, Henri Bergson, Bertrand Russell, Rudolf Carnap, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and, in our own time, by philosophers such as John Searle, Daniel Dennett, and Paul and Patricia Churchland.


Ricoeur: I think of Georges Canguilhem, also Gaston Bachelard. For me, Canguilhem's La Connaissance de la vie is an important point of reference. Canguilhem was both a philosopher and physician. He showed how human beings structure their environment and project "vital values" that give meaning to their behavior. They thus manage to inaugurate a normativity that is distinct from the operation of physical law. As for Bachelard, he recognized in La Formation de l'esprit scientifique a distinct form of inventiveness related to the power of "epistemological rupture" but comparable to poetic creation.


Changeux: Bachelard examined the mental activity of the scientist in a particularly original way, it is true. One might also cite the dialogue between Karl Popper and John Eccles, the one a philosopher and the other a neurobiologist, as it happens. In their joint work The Self and Its Brain one finds an entire program worked out, in fact.


Ricoeur: They tried to construct a philosophical system that organized in a hierarchical way the levels at which the sciences of the brain and the philosophy of mind interact. No doubt we will encounter this problem quite often in our discussion as well.


Changeux: Yes. We have therefore at least one relatively recent example of dialogue between a philosopher and a neurobiologist. Eccles's approach was different from mine, however. He was interested in the electrical activity of the nerve cell and of groups of neurons. The point of departure for his thinking was therefore at a level more organized than that of the molecule, which may explain some of the differences between our points of view. Eccles was also perhaps one of the last neurobiologists to believe in the dualism of mind and brain.


Knowledqe of the Brain and Self-Knowledqe


Changeux: The exchange of views to which we both look forward turns on a question that seems to me essential, namely to what extent the spectacular progress that has been made in our understanding of the brain over the last twenty years or so will lead us to reexamine the fundamental problem of what is usually called the relation between body and mind or, as I would prefer to characterize it, the relation between the brain and thought. The past few decades have seen the emergence of an entirely new field, cognitive science, that draws upon work in physiology, molecular biology, psychology and the human sciences. It has given rise to highly promising interdisciplinary collaboration involving not only researchers in the natural sciences but also anthropologists and other social scientists. This new alliance holds out the prospect of achieving a unified and synthetic view of what was formerly a question reserved for philosophy (when it was not reserved for religion) by building upon our present state of knowledge about the brain and its functions. It now becomes possible, I would argue, for a neurobiologist to legitimately take an interest in the foundations of morality, for example, and, conversely, for a philosopher to find material for reflection, even edification, in the results of contemporary neuroscience.

    The fundamental question—a philosophical question, on which I would like our debate to focus—is whether the progress of knowledge in the sciences of the nervous system, the brain, and, more generally, cognition calls for a reexamination of the crucial distinction made in the eighteenth century by David Hume, which many philosophers and scientists seem still to endorse today, between the factual—what is—and the normative—what ought to be; that is, between knowledge, in particular scientific knowledge, and moral rules. Does this distinction need still to be upheld or can we now inquire into the relationship between moral rules and nature by using our scientific knowledge of the brain and its higher functions to enrich ethical reflection? I am aware that this question, despite its importance, is a highly sensitive one. Many of our fellow citizens continue to regard morality as belonging to the domain of religion. In fact, I should think that most people believe that morality serves to protect us against science and technology. Well-intentioned persons wonder with what right a scientist can chair a committee on bioethics, as I did for six years, rather than a jurist, for example. Others challenge the very presence of scientific experts on such a committee. As a result, it is hard to see how any cooperative relationship can be established between scientists and ethicists.

    Few members of the general public realize that the idea of a science of ethics is not new. It is found in the work of Auguste Comte, who proposed a positive morality of altruism subordinating selfish desires to sympathetic instincts that would stand as the "seventh science," the science par excellence, uniting the natural with the scientific and the social to produce morality. Comte even went so far as to propose "phrenological physiology" as a scientific basis for morality, relying upon Gall's notion that the seat of each innate and irreducible faculty is localized in a particular part of the brain. Comte exploited Gall's model in order to advance the hypothesis that the more or less complex interaction of these faculties affects the emotional states that govern moral judgments.

    Comte was not the only one to posit scientific laws of morality. Spencer, and after him Darwin, did so as well, though in contrary ways: Spencer emphasized the doctrine of laissez-faire and the success of the fittest at the level of society, Darwin the enlargement of sympathies and the social instinct peculiar to the human species. After them, the Russian prince Peter Kropotkin, remembered chiefly as the theoretician of anarchism, found in nature an objective moral law in the form of mutual aid. Similarly, the French politician Léon Bourgeois, a prime minister under the Third Republic and later one of the founders of the League of Nations, advocated solidarity as a secular republican morality on the model of Pasteur's theory of protection against contagious disease.

    Here one must be extremely careful. The grave perversion of biology, and particularly of genetics, on behalf of exclusionary ideologies that encouraged racism and genocide is well known. Nonetheless the question whether ethics can be reconceived as an objective science of morality remains a very lively and topical one. Habermas, for example, has argued forcefully that moral judgment comes under the head of truth. For me, this question—at bottom an ontological question—is the first one we need to address.


Ricoeur: Is this question, which you call ontological and which I would call one of philosophical anthropology, really the first question we ought to consider? Permit me to come back to the way you pose the question of the relationship between nature and moral rules. I quite agree that this fundamental difficulty, well formulated by Hume, is one that we must tackle. But we cannot, to my way of thinking, take it up without first having clarified the epistemological status of the neurosciences. For my part, I cannot avoid taking a position with regard to a problem bequeathed by the most ancient philosophical tradition, from Plato to Descartes and from Spinoza and Leibniz to Bergson, namely that of the relation between the soul and the body. This relation is located at the level of ultimate, irreducible, primitive entities that are constitutive of what analytic philosophers like to call the furniture of the world. This is the level of fundamental ontology. In Descartes's time—and that of his followers, Malebranche, Spinoza, Leibniz—it was supposed that ultimate reality could be apprehended in terms of substance, which is to say in terms of something that exists in and of itself. The question thus arose, on the assumption that things are made of substance, whether man is made of one or of two substances. This grand quarrel, sustained by a considerable argumentative apparatus, survives today only in bastard and skeletal forms such as psychosomatic parallelism, interactionism, reductionism, and so on. To oppose spiritualist dualism to materialist monism amounts to a crude oversimplification of what was at issue in the seventeenth century.

    I do not propose to argue on the ontological plane, whose bases were undermined by Kant in the Transcendental Dialectic of the first Critique. Relying instead on the resources furnished by phenomenology, I will restrict myself, modestly but firmly, to considering the semantics of two distinct discourses—one concerning the body and the brain, the other what I will call the mental.

    My initial thesis is that these discourses represent heterogeneous perspectives, which is to say that they cannot be reduced to each other or derived from each other. In the one case it is a question of neurons and their connection in a system; in the other one speaks of knowledge, action, feeling—acts or states characterized by intentions, motivations, and values. I shall therefore combat the sort of semantic amalgamation that one finds summarized in the oxymoronic formula "The brain thinks."


Changeux: I avoid using such formulas.


Ricoeur: I proceed, then, from a semantic dualism that expresses a duality of perspectives. The tendency to slip from a dualism of discourses to a dualism of substances is encouraged by the fact that each field of study tends to define itself in terms of what may be called a final referent, something to which appeal can be made as a last resort. But this referent is final only in its respective field, and comes to be defined at the same time as the field itself is defined. It is therefore necessary to refrain from transforming a dualism of referents into a dualism of substances. Prohibiting this elision of the semantic and the ontological has the consequence that, on the phenomenological plane where I take up my position, the term mental is not equivalent to the term immaterial in the sense of something noncorporeal. Quite the opposite. Mental experience implies the corporeal, but in a sense that is irreducible to the objective bodies studied by the natural sciences. Semantically opposed to the body-as-object of these sciences is the experienced body, one's own body—my body (from which I speak), your body (the body that belongs to you, which I address), the body of another (his body or her body, about which I make up stories). Thus the body figures twice in the discourse I propose, both as "objective" body and as "subjective" body or, as I would rather say, one's own body. I prefer to speak of one's own body, rather than of the subjective body, because the body in question is not only mine but the body of others as well. Therefore: body as part of the world, and as that from which I (you, he, she) apprehend(s) the world for purposes of orientation and in order to live in it. Here I am very close to P. F. Strawson's position in Individuals, where he shows that two series of heterogeneous predicates can be applied to the same person, considering him or her either as an object of observation and explanation or as enjoying the relationship indicated in our language by possessive pronouns such as "mine," which themselves belong to the list of expressions that linguists call "deictic," or demonstrative—here, there, now, yesterday, today, and so on. The deictic form that interests us here is the "mine" of my body. My initial hypothesis, then, which I submit for your consideration, is that I do not see a way of passing from one order of discourse to the other: either I speak of neurons and so forth, in which case I find myself in a certain language, or I speak of thoughts, actions, and feelings that I connect with my body, to which I stand in a relation of possession, of belonging. Thus, I can say that my hands, my feet, and so forth are my organs in the sense that I walk with my feet, I grasp with my hands—but this comes under the head of personal experience, and I do not have to commit myself to an ontology of the soul in order to speak in this way. By contrast, when I am told that I have a brain, no actual experience corresponds to this; I learn about it in books—


Changeux: Except when you have a headache or when a cerebral lesion, due to an accident for example, has deprived you of speech or of the capacity to read and write.


Ricoeur: We will come back later to the question of what sort of instruction clinical observation may provide for the conduct of life, that is, apart from the need for treatment, the need to adjust behavior to a "reduced" environment, to use Kurt Goldstein's phrase. For the moment, let's stay on the epistemological plane. A critical point, which at first sight appears to be simply linguistic but which in fact goes far beyond this, is that there is no parallelism between the sentences "I grasp with my hands" and "I think with my brain." Everything that I know about the brain is one kind of knowledge. However, there are other kinds of knowledge as well. I suspect you and I may disagree about the answer to the following question: Does the new knowledge that we have about the cortex add to what I already know through direct bodily experience and, in particular, everything that I know about emotions, perceptions, everything that is genuinely psycho-organic and connected with my possession of my body? There is only one body that is mine, whereas all other bodies are outside me.


Changeux: I see the problem. First, I agree with you that there exist two types of discourse that refer to two distinct methods of investigation in the sciences of the nervous system. One bears upon the anatomy, the morphology of the brain, its microscopic organization, nerve cells and their synaptic connections; the other concerns conduct, behaviors, emotions, feelings, thoughts, and actions on the environment. These two modes of description have long been separated from each other, all the more so because at the beginning of the century one tradition of research on animal and human behaviors—behaviorism—deliberately omitted to take into account the anatomical and pharmacological aspects of the central nervous system. The brain was put aside as a "black box." This research nonetheless had a positive effect: it led to the objective analysis of animal behavior in experimental situations—learning, for example, or feeding habits, vocalizations, sexual behavior, and so on. These observational data, described in their own special terms, are indispensable for research in the neurosciences. In many cases where one attempts to model cognitive processes, in fact, such behavioral data constitute an obligatory point of departure.

    But the description of cerebral anatomy concerns objects and uses a vocabulary that in no way coincide with the objects and vocabulary of behavior or, as you call it, personal experience. No neurobiologist would ever say that "language is the posterior part of the frontal lobe of the cerebral cortex." That is meaningless. One says instead that language "makes use of" or, better yet, "mobilizes" particular areas of the brain. The term mobilize is particularly appropriate because it involves a set of processes that is not covered by either of your two discourses: dynamic and transitory activities that occur throughout the neural network. These electrical and chemical activities constitute an internal link between the anatomical organization of neurons and connections, on the one hand, and behavior on the other. It becomes necessary to introduce a third discourse, anticipated by Spinoza, that draws upon this functional dynamic in order to unify the anatomical and the behavioral, to link the neuronal description with that which is perceived or experienced. I would say therefore that I am not guilty of semantic confusion, or amalgamation, but that I utilize instead several "discourses," or descriptions, that need to be related to each other in an adequate and operational form.


Ricoeur: It's not only the anatomical and the behavioral that have to be related to each other, for they both fall under the category of objective knowledge; but observed and scientifically described behavior, on the one hand, and, on the other, personal experience—and this in a meaningful way, in terms of what Canguilhem called "vital values." It is at this level that the duality of discourse presents a problem.


Changeux: A problem, to be sure, but not an incompatibility. With regard to your second point, once again I find myself in agreement with you. The discourse about the body-as-subject, "my body from which I speak" and "his or her body that I make up stories about"—as distinguished from the discourse about the objective body, or brain, whose anatomy and observable activities I describe—comes under the head of the subject's processes of conscious perception and the attribution to others of mental states, knowledge, emotions, and even intuitions. At first sight it may seem impossible to pass from the one discourse to the other, as you suggest. This is an issue of great importance, and we will certainly come back to it at length.

    At this stage of our discussion I shall content myself with making two points. It is, of course, true that a person's individual history, the memories accumulated during childhood together with the course of one's affective life, give each person's experience a particular "color," "tone," or "value"; but this owes nothing to some elusive metaphysics. It has to do instead with an epigenetic signature stabilized in our patterns of cerebral organization and acquired by each person over the course of his or her life. But the simple fact that we can communicate this experience with others through narratives, poems, and works of art indicates, I believe, that despite individual variability our brains give us access as human beings to experiences that are in agreement with—if not always very similar to—our own. Moreover, despite obvious errors to which we are all liable, the capacity to attribute our own mental states to others indicates that another person has "personal experience" that is close to "mine." We will see that new technologies of brain imaging allow the experience of others to be "objectively" analyzed and reproduced from one individual to another.

    Nonetheless, I grant you, this type of neuroscientific investigation has so far yielded only partial advances. Such research is concerned with highly integrated functions of the human brain, conscious processes that open onto the world. The ability to model them constitutes a crucial step forward for our discipline. There is much that is unknown, but for all that nothing that is unknowable! Just the same, we must proceed with great care and humility. Grand though our ambitions may be, we are nonetheless obliged to take small steps, proposing models that are simple, partial, and fragmentary.


Ricoeur: The particular "tone" of each person's personal experience does not depend on some "elusive metaphysics"; it depends on descriptions that have their own criteria of significance and that lend themselves to what may be called an essential analysis. As for the narratives, poems, and works of art that you rightly evoke in this connection, these are modes of discourse or expression that are on the same plane of understanding and interpretation. The way in which you present the research program of the neurosciences, incorporating conscious processes in it, makes it clear you are not a reductionist.

Changeux: Thank you very much—I am very frequently accused of being one!

Continues...

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Table of Contents

Translator's Note
Prelude
1 A Necessary Encounter 3
2 Body and Mind: In Search of a Common Discourse 33
3 The Neuronal Model and the Test of Experience 70
4 Consciousness of Oneself and of Others 134
5 The Origins of Morality 179
6 Desire and Norms 212
7 Ethical Universality and Cultural Conflict 257
Fugue 311
Notes 313
Index 327
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