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  • 8/13/2019 Churchlands New Yorker


    A marriage devoted to the mind-body problem.

    Its a little before six in the morningand quite cold on the beach. Its lowtide, and the sand is wet and hard-packed and stony. This early on a Sun-day, there are often only two peoplehere, on the California coast just northof San Diego. Patricia Churchland isthrowing a rubber ball into the ocean forher two dogs (Fergus and Maxwell,golden retrievers) to fetch.Her husband, Paul Church-

    land, is standing next to her.They are both wearing heavysweaters. They are in theirearly sixties. They are tallshe is five feet eight, he is sixfeet five. They come hereevery Sunday at dawn.

    Pat is constantly in motion,throwing the ball, steppingbackward, rubbing her handstogether, walking forward in a

    vigorous, twitchy way. She haspale eyes, a sharp chin, and the

    crisp, alert look of someonewho likes being outside in thecold. (Even when it is sunny,she looks as though she wereenjoying a bracing wind.) Sheseems younger than she is: shehas the anxious vitality of aperson driven to prove her-selfthe first to jump off a bridge intofreezing water. Paul stands heavily, hishands in his pockets. He is still. Henudges at a stone with his foot. He looksup and smiles at his wifes back. He has

    a thick beard. He looks like the sort ofperson who finds it soothing to chop hisown wood (and in fact he is that sort ofperson).

    Paul and Pat met when she was nine-teen and he was twenty, and they havebeen married for almost forty years.They are both Canadian; she grew upon a farm in the Okanagan Valley, he,in Vancouver. They have two children

    and four grandchildren. They live in So-lana Beach, in a nineteen-sixties housewith a small pool and a hot tub and anherb garden. Each summer, they mi-grate north to a tiny island off the Van-couver coast. Both are professors of phi-losophy at the University of Californiaat San Diego. They have been talkingabout philosophy together since they

    met, which is to say more or less sinceeither of them encountered the subject.They test ideas on each other; they crit-icize each others work. At this point,they have shaped each other so pro-

    foundly and their ideas are so inter-twined that it is impossible, even forthem, to say where one ends and theother begins. Their work is so similarthat they are sometimes discussed, injournals and books, as one person. Someof their theories are quite radical, andat the start of their careers the Church-lands were not always taken seriously:sometimes their ideas were thought

    Paul and Patricia Churchland helped persuade philosophers to pay attention to neuroscience. Photographs by Steve Pyke.

    silly, sometimes repugnant, verging onimmoral. In those days, they formed ahabit of thinking of themselves as iso-lates aligned against a hostile world, andalthough they are now both well estab-lished in their field, the habit lingers.

    For the first twenty-five years ofour career, Pat and I wrote only onepaper together, Paul says, partly be-

    cause we wanted to avoidWe wrote more than

    that, Pat says.Together? I thoughtStalking the Wild EpistemicEngine was the first.

    There was Function-alism, Intentionality, andWhatnot.

    O.K., so theres two. Inthe early stages, when Patwrote her papers she said,Paul, you really had a lot ofinput into this, should weput your name on it? Id say,

    No, I dont want people say-ing Pats sailing on Paulscoattails.

    The guiding obsession oftheir professional lives is anancient philosophical puzzle,the mind-body problem: theproblem of how to under-

    stand the relationship between consciousexperience and the brain. Are they dif-ferent stuffs: the mind a kind of spirit,the brain, flesh? Or are they the samestuff, their seeming difference just a pe-

    culiarly intractable illusion? And if theyare the same stuff, if the mind is thebrain, how can we comprehend thatfact? What can it possibly mean to saythat my experience of seeing blue is thesame thing as a clump of tissue and mem-brane and salty liquid?

    Think of some evanescent emotionapprehension mixed with conceit, say.Then think, That feeling and that mass

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  • 8/13/2019 Churchlands New Yorker


    of wet tissuesame thing. Or think ofthe way a door shutting sounds to you,which is private, inaccessible to anyoneelse, and couldnt exist without you con-scious and listening; that and the firing ofcells in your brain, which any neurosci-entist can readily detect without yourcoperationsame thing. The terms

    dont match, they dont make sense to-gether, any more than it makes sense toask how many words you can fit in atruck. That is the problem.

    In the past, it seemed obvious thatmind and matter were not the same stuff;the only question was whether they wereconnected. Everyone was a dualist. In theseventeenth century, Leibniz thoughtthat mind and body only appeared to in-teract because God had established a per-fectly synchronized harmony betweenthem (an ingenious theory impossible to

    refute). Descartes believed that the mindwas composed of a strange substancethat was not physical but that interactedwith the material of the brain by meansof the pineal gland. Nowadays, few peo-ple doubt that the mind somehow is thebrain, but although that might seem likethe end of the matter, all thats neces-sary to be clear on the subject, it is not. Itis not enough to imagine that the brainhousesthe mind (in some obscure cav-ity, perhaps tiny intracellular pockets),orgives rise tothe mind (the way a televi-

    sion produces an image), orgeneratesthemind (a generator producing current):to imagine any of those things is to re-tain the idea that the mind and the brainare distinct from each other. The trick isto remove the verb that separates them.The problem is not one of knowledge;the problem is our obdurate, antedilu-

    vian minds that cannot grasp what we be-lieve to be true.Some philosophers think that we will

    never solve this problemthat our twothousand years of trying and failing in-dicate that its likely we are no more ca-pable of doing so than a goat can do al-gebra. Others believe that someday aconceptual revolution will take place, ona par with those of Copernicus and Dar-win, and then all at once it will be clearhow matter and mind, brain and con-sciousness, are one thing. Paul and Pat

    Churchland believe that the mind-bodyproblem will be solved not by philoso-phers but by neuroscientists, and that ourpresent knowledge is so paltry that wewould not understand the solution evenif it were suddenly to present itself. Sup-pose youre a medieval physicist wonder-ing about the burning of wood, Pat likesto say in her classes. Youre AlbertusMagnus, lets say. One night, a Martiancomes down and whispers, Hey, Alber-tus, the burning of wood is really rapidoxidation! What could he do? He knows

    no structural chemistry, he doesnt knowwhat oxygen is, he doesnt know whatan element ishe couldnt make anysense of it. And if some fine night thatsame omniscient Martian came downand said, Hey, Pat, consciousness is re-ally blesjeakahgjfdl! I would be simi-larly confused, because neuroscience is

    just not far enough along. Philosophershave always thought about what it meansto be made of flesh, but the introduc-tion into the discipline of a wet, messy,complex, and redundant collection ofneuronal connections is relatively new.Nowadays, it seems obvious to manyphilosophers that if they are interestedin the mind they should pay attention toneuroscience, but this was not at all obvi-ous when Pat and Paul were starting out,and that it is so now is in some measuredue to them.

    The Churchlands like to try, as far aspossible, not only to believe that theythemselves are thoroughly physical crea-tures but also to feel itto experiencetheir thoughts as bodily sensations. Theyhave never thought it a diminishment ofhumanness to think of their conscious-ness as fleshquite the opposite. Andthey are monists in life as they are in phi-losophy: they wonder what sort of or-ganism their marriage is, its body and itsmental life, beginning when they wereunformed and very youngall those

    years of sharing the same ideas and thesame dinners. When they met, Paul andPat were quite different, from each otherand from what they are now: he knewabout astronomy and electromagnetictheory, she about biology and novels.But as time went on they taught eachother what they knew, and the thingsthey didnt share fell away. Their familyunity was such that their two childrennow in their thirtiesgrew up, profes-sionally speaking, almost identical: bothobtained Ph.D.s in neuroscience and

    now study monkeys. Paul sometimesthinks of Pat and himself as two hemi-spheres of the same braindifferentiatedin certain functions but bound togetherby tissue and neuronal pathways wornin unique directions by shared incidentsand habit. This is not a fantasy of trans-parency between them: even ones ownmind is not transparent to oneself, Paulbelieves, so to imagine his wifes brainjoined to his is merely to exaggeratewhat is actually the casetwo organ-

    I dont know if its me or the system, but it seems harderand harder to make a mockery of justice.

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    isms evolving into one in a shared shell.Its funny the way your life is your

    life and you dont know any other life,Pat says. I dont know what it wouldhave been like if Id been married to

    A patent lawyer?Something like that. Its hard for me

    to imagine.

    I think the two of us have been,jointly, several orders of magnitude moresuccessful than at least I would have beenon my own, Paul says. Id like to under-stand that better than I do; I presume itsgot something to do with the brain. Youcould say, well, we exchanged a lot ofoxytocin, but thats probably one per centof the story. (Oxytocin is a peptide pro-duced in the body during orgasm andbreast-feeding; when it is sprayed intothe noses of experimental subjects, theybecome more trusting and coperative.)

    To what extent has Pat shaped my con-ceptual framework and hence my per-ceptions of the world, and to what extenthave I done that for her? I think the an-swer is, an enormous extent. But I dontknow how to unwind it.

    Weve been married thirty-six years,and I guess weve known each other forforty-two or something like that. Thatsa long time.

    Thirty-seven years. Werent wemarried in 69? Almost thirty-eight.

    That is a long time.

    The tide is coming in. A few morepeople have arrived at the beachthereare now a couple of cars parked nextto the Churchlands white Toyota Se-quoia. Pat and Paul walk up toward theroad. The dogs come running out of thesea, wet and barking.

    Pat Churchland grew up in ruralBritish Columbia. Her parentsowned an orchardin the summer theOkanagan Valley is hot enough forpeaches. We used to regale people with

    stories of life on the farm because theythought it was from the nineteenth cen-tury, Pat says.

    You had chickens, you had a cow,Paul says.

    We didnt have an indoor toilet untilI was seven. We had a two-holer, andpeople actually did sit in the loo together.I know it seems hilariousnow.

    When Pat was a teen-ager, sheworked in a fruit-packing plant. Neitherof her parents was formally educated

    past the sixth grade. In her understand-ing of herself, this kind of childhood isvery important. To her, growing up on afarm in the middle of nowhere meansthat you have no patience for verbiage,you are interested only in whether athing works or not. And if it doesntwork you had better figure out how to fix

    it yourself, because no one is going to doit for you.When Pat went to college, she de-

    cided that she wanted to learn about themind: what is intelligence, what it is toreason, what it is to have emotions. Shefound that these questions were notbeing addressed in the first place shelooked, psychologymany psycholo-gists then were behavioristsbut theywere discussed somewhat in philosophy,so she started taking philosophy courses.She met Paul in a Plato class, her soph-

    omore year. She soon discovered thatthe sort of philosophy she was beingtaught was not what she was lookingfor. At the time, in the nineteen-sixties,Anglo-American philosophy was preoc-cupied with languagemany philoso-phers felt that their task was to untanglethe confusions and incoherence in theway people spoke, in the belief that dis-agreements were often misunderstand-ings, and that if our concepts were bet-ter sorted out then our thinking wouldalso be clearer. This held no great appeal

    for Pat, but one thing led to another, andshe found herself in philosophy grad-uate school at the University of Pitts-burgh. The department was strong inphilosophy of science, and to her reliefPat found people there who agreed thatordinary language philosophy was a bitsterile. At Pittsburgh, she read W. V. O.Quines book Word and Object, whichhad been published a few years earlier,and she learned, to her delight, that itwas possible to question the distinctionbetween empirical and conceptual truth:

    not only could philosophy concern itselfwith science; it could even be a kind ofscience.

    After a year, she moved to Oxford todo a B.Phil. Philosophy at Oxford at thetime was very far from Pittsburghquite conservative, not at all empiricallyoriented. Nobody seemed to be inter-ested in what she was interested in, andwhen she tried to do what she was sup-posed to she was bad at it. It was all verydiscouraging. She was beginning to feel

    that philosophy was just a lot of blather.The idea seemed to be that, if you ana-lyzed your concepts, somehow that ledyou to the truth of the nature of things,she says. It was just garbage. She wasabout to move back to Canada and dosomething else entirely, maybe go intobusiness, but meanwhile Paul Church-

    land had broken up with the girlfriendhed had when they were undergraduatesand had determined to pursue her. Hecame over to Oxford for the summer,and they rented a little house togetheron Iffley Road. Paul had started think-ing about how you might use philosophyof science to think about the mind, andhe wooed Pat with his theories.

    At Pittsburgh, where he had alsogone for graduate school, he had learnedto be suspicious of the intuitively plau-sible idea that you could see the world

    directly and form theories about it after-wardthat you could rely on your basicperceptions (seeing, hearing, touching)being as straightforwardly physical andfree from bias as they appeared to be.He concluded that we cannot help per-ceiving the world through the mediumof our ideas about it. Its not just a mat-ter of what we pay attention toa farm-ers interest might be aroused by differentthings in a landscape than a poetsbutof what we actually see. In the course ofthat summer, Pat came to look at phi-

    losophy quite differently. I stayed inthe field because of Paul, she says.Gradually, I could see all kinds ofthings to do, and I could see whatcounted as progress. Philosophy couldactually change your experience of theworld, she realized. And if it couldchange your experience of the worldthen it had the potential to do impor-tant work, as important as that of sci-ence, because coming to see somethingin a wholly different way was like dis-covering a new thing.

    Paul didnt grow up on a farm, but hewas raised in a family with a practi-cal bent: his father started a boat-workscompany in Vancouver, then taught sci-ence in a local high school. His mothertook in sewing.

    I guess I have long known that therewas only the brain, Pat says.

    When you were six years old? Paulsays.

    Well, no, of course not.

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    I remember deciding at about ageeleven or twelve, after a discussion withmy friends about the universe and didGod exist and was there a soul and soforth, Paul says. Id been skepticalabout God. My parents werent reli-gious. I would ask myself, What do youthink thinking is? And Id say, I guessits just electricity.

    Paul as a boy was obsessed with sci-ence fiction, particularly books by Rob-ert Heinlein. He vividly remembers Or-phans of the Sky, the story of a youngman named Hugh Hoyland. Hugh livesin a world called the Ship, which is runby scientistsall except for the upperdecks, where it is dangerous to venturebecause of the mutants, or muties, wholive there. One day, Hugh is captured byan intelligent two-headed mutie namedJoe-Jim, who takes him up to the controlroom of the Ship and shows him the sky

    and the stars. All at once, Hugh realizesthat what he had been told were inscru-table religious metaphors were in facttrue: the Ship is not the whole universeafter all but merely a thing inside it, andit is actually making some sort of jour-ney. He tries to explain this to the scien-tists, but they tell him he is talking non-sense. How could the Ship move whenthe Ship is all there is? Orphans of theSky is a classic philosophical fable, avariant of Platos story about prisoners in

    a cave who mistake shadows cast on thewall for reality. Its moral is not very use-ful for day-to-day work, in philosophy oranything elsewhat are you supposed todo with it?but it has retained a hold onPauls imagination: he always remem-bers that, however certain he may beabout something, however airtight anargument appears or however funda-

    mental an intuition, there is always achance that both are completely wrong,and that reality lies in some other placethat he hasnt looked because he doesntknow its there.

    Pauls father had a woodworking andmetal shop in the basement, and Paulwas always building things. He plannedeventually to build flying saucers, anddecided that he was going to be an aero-dynamical engineer. He stuck with thisplan when he got to college, takingcourses in math and physics. But the

    summer after his first year he foundhimself hanging around with a group offriends who could make sophisticatedarguments about the existence of God.Paul was at a disadvantage not knowingwhat the ontological argument was, andhe determined to take some philosophyclasses when he went back to school.Although he was trained, as Pat was, inordinary language philosophy, by thetime he graduated he also was begin-ning to feel that that sort of philosophy

    was not for him. When he got to Pitts-burgh, Wilfrid Sellars became his dis-sertation adviser. In the mid-nineteen-fifties, a few years before Paul becamehis student, Sellars had proposed thatthe sort of basic psychological under-standing that we take for granted as vir-tually instinctiveif someone is hun-

    gry, he will try to find something to eat;if he believes a situation to be danger-ous, he will try to get awaywas not.Concepts like beliefs and desires donot come to us naturally; they have to belearned. Nor were they simply descrip-tive: we do not see beliefs, after allweconjecture that they are there based onhow a person is behaving. No, this kindof ordinary psychological understandingwas something like a theory, a more orless coherent collection of assumptionsand hypotheses, built up over time, that

    we used to explain and predict otherpeoples behavior.In writing his dissertation, Paul

    started with Sellarss idea that ordinaryor folk psychology was a theory andtook it a step further. If folk psychologywas a theory, Paul reasoned, it couldturn out to be wrong. It had happenedmany times, after all, that understand-ings that felt as fundamental and un-shakable as instincts turned out to bewrong. Our folk geologythe evidenceof our eyes and common sensetold us

    that the earth was flat, and while it stillmight look that way we accepted that itwas an illusion. Our folk biology told usthat if we slammed a hand in a door wewould feel pain at the point of con-tactand, while we still felt pain in thehand, we now knew that the pain signalhad to travel away from the hand to thebrain before we experienced it. Folkpsychology, too, had suffered correc-tions; it was now widely agreed, for in-stance, that we might have repressedmotives and memories that we did not,

    for the moment, perceive. Surely it waslikely that, with progress in neurosci-ence, many more counterintuitive re-sults would come to light. How proba-ble was it, after all, that, in probing thebrain, scientists would come across lit-tle clusters of belief neurons? It wasntthat beliefs didnt exist; it was just thatit seemed highly improbable that thefirst speakers of the English language,many hundreds of years ago, should mi-raculously have chanced upon the cate-

    Charles is based on an old Ukrainian folktale.

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    gories that, as the saying goes, carvednature at its joints. It might turn out,for instance, that it would make moresense, brain-wise, to group beliefs aboutcheese with fear of cheese and crav-ing for dairy rather than with beliefsabout life after death.

    Mental life was something we knew

    very little about, and when somethingwas imperfectly understood it was quitelikely that we would define its structureimperfectly, too. It was only rarely that,in science, you started with a perfectlydelimited thing and set out to inves-tigate it; more often, your definition ofwhat it was that you were looking atwould change as you discovered moreabout it. (Consider the medieval phys-icists who wondered what fire couldbe, Pat says. They identified a rangeof things that they thought were in-

    stances of fire: burning wood, the sun,comets, lightning, fireflies, northernlights. They couldnt give a definition,but they could give examples that theyagreed upon. Jump now to the twenti-eth century. The category of fire, as de-fined by what seemed to be intuitivelyobvious members of the category, hasbecome completely unstuck. Turns outthat burning wood is actually oxidation;what happens on the sun has nothing todo with that, its nuclear fusion; light-ning is thermal emission; fireflies are

    biophosphorescence; northern lightsare spectral emission.)Why, Paul reasoned, should we as-

    sume that our everyday psychologicalnotions are any more accurate than ouruninformed notions about the world?Why should we suppose introspectionto be infallible when our perception isso clearly fallible in every other way?Paul speculated that it might, someday,turn out that a materialist science, map-ping the structure and functions of thebrain, would eliminate much of folk

    psychology altogether. Some folk cat-egories would probably survivevisualperception was a likely candidate, hethought. Attention, perhaps. Repre-sentation. But not much more thanthat.

    Pat and Paul married in 1969 andfound jobs together at the Univer-sity of Manitoba, in Winnipeg.

    Winnipeg was basically like Cleve-land in the fifties, Pat says. Very inno-

    cent, very free. The kids look back onthose years in Winnipeg as being . . .

    A great bonus?Yes. Despite the weather. Youd just

    go out on your front steps and hollerwhen it was dinnertime. Youd have noidea where they were.

    There wasnt much traffic. The kids

    were like a flock of pigeons that flew backand forth from one lawn to another.The University of Manitoba was not

    the sort of place to keep close track of apersons publications, and, for the firsttime, Pat and Paul felt that they couldpursue whatever they liked. Pat decidedthat if she was ever going to really get atthe questions she was interested in shehad to know more about the brain, so shepresented herself to the medical schooland asked permission to study neuro-anatomy and neurophysiology with the

    medical students.While she was at Oxford, she hadstarted dipping into science magazines,and had read about some astonishingexperiments that had been performedin California on patients whose corpuscallosumthe nerve tissue connectingthe two cerebral hemisphereshadbeen severed, producing a split brain.This operation had been performed forsome years, as a last-resort means ofhalting epileptic seizures, but, oddly,

    it had had no noticeable mental sideeffects. Then someone had come upwith the idea of stimulating the hemi-spheres independently, and it had beendiscovered that the severing did indeedproduce some rather strange results. Ifthe word hat, for instance, was shownonly to the right side of the visual field

    (controlled by the verbally oriented lefthemisphere), the patient had no troublesaying what it was, but if it was shownto the left (controlled by the almost non-verbal right hemisphere), he could notindeed, he would claim not to have seena word at allbut he could select a hatfrom a group of objects with his lefthand.

    It was amazing that you could phys-ically separate the hemispheres and insome sense or other you were also sepa-rating consciousness, Pat says. In one

    way, it shouldnt be a surprise, I suppose,if you think that the mind is the brain.On the other hand, the fact that you canseparate a sense of selfthat was tre-mendously important. People had donesplit brains before, but they didnt noticeanything. They thought, Whats thisbunch of tissue doing hereholdingthe hemispheres together? But you dontneed that, because theyre not goingto go anywhere, so what is it? You hadto really know the physiology and the

    He just won The Best Meaning of Life award.

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    anatomy in order to ask the questions inthe right way.

    There were cases when a split-brainpatient would be reading a newspaper,and, since its only the left brain that pro-cesses language, the right brain getsbored as hell, and since the right braincontrols the left arm the person would

    find that his left hand would suddenlygrab the newspaper and throw it to theground! Paul says.

    Well, it wasnt quite like that. Itwasnt like he was surprised. It just kindof happened.

    Some of the experiments soundeduncannily like cases of spiritual posses-sion. One patient had a pipe placed in hisleft hand that he could feel but not see;then he was asked to write with his lefthand what it was that he had felt. His lefthand began very slowly to form the let-

    ters P and I; but then, as thoughtaken over by a ghost, the hand suddenlybegan writing quickly and fluently,crossed out the I and completed theword PENCIL. Then, as though theghost had been pushed aside again, thehand crossed out PENCIL and drew apicture of a pipe. It seemed, the experi-menters concluded, that the left hemi-sphere, impatient with the left handsslow writing, had seized control of thehand and had produced the word PEN-CIL as a guess, based on the letter P,

    but then the right hemisphere had takenover once again and corrected it. Thereappeared to be two distinct conscious-nesses inside a persons head that some-how became one when thebrain was properly joined.Or one self torn in two.

    At the medical school inWinnipeg, Pat was assigneda brain of her own, whichshe kept in the lab in a Tup-perware pot filled with for-maldehyde. Later, she ob-

    served neurosurgeries, ask-ing the surgeons permissionto peer in through the hole in the scalpto catch a glimpse of living tissue, a littlepatch of a brain as it was still doing itsmysterious work. She attended neurol-ogy rounds. The first neurological pa-tient she saw was himself a neurosur-geon who suffered from a strange con-dition, owing to a lesion in his brainstem, that caused him to burst into tearsat the slightest provocation. He would

    sob and shake but at the same time insistthat he was not feeling in the least bitsad. This made an impression on her,partly because she realized how it wouldhave flummoxed a behaviorist to see thiscomplete detachment of behavior andinward feeling and partly because noneof the neurologists on the rounds were

    surprised. The condition, it appeared,was not all that uncommon. She en-countered patients who were blind butdidnt know it. That really kicked theslats out of the idea that you can learnvery much about the nature of the mindor the nature of the brain by askingwhats imaginable, she says. Its notimaginable to me that I could be blindand not know it, but it actually happens.So its being unimaginable doesnt tellme shit!

    Each evening, after the children were

    in bed, she would teach Paul everythingshe had learned that day, and they wouldtalk about what it meant for philosophy.They later discovered, for instance, thatthe brain didnt store different sorts ofknowledge in particular placestherewas no such thing as a memory organ.Even dedicated areas like the visual cor-tex could be surprisingly plastic: blindpeople, and people who could see buthad been blindfolded for a few days,used the visual cortex to read Braille,even though that would seem to be a

    thoroughly tactile activity. All thisboded well for Pauls theory that folk-psychological terms would graduallydisappearif concepts like memory

    or belief had no distinctcorrelates in the brain, thenthose categories seemedbound, sooner or later, tofall apart.

    Gradually, Pat and Paularrived at various sharednotions about what philos-ophy was and what it ought

    to be. They agreed that itshould not keep itself pure:a philosophy that confined itself to log-ical truths, seeing itself as a kind ofmathematics of language, had sealed it-self inside a futile, circular system ofself-reference. Why shouldnt philos-ophy concern itself with facts? Whyshouldnt it get involved with the uncer-tain conjectures of science? Who caredwhether the abstract concepts of actionor freedom made sense or not? Surely it

    was more interesting to think aboutwhat caused us to act, and what made usless or more free to do so? Yes, thosesounded more like scientific questionsthan like philosophical ones, but thatwas only because, over the years, philos-ophy had ceded so much of the interest-ing territory to science. Why shouldnt

    philosophy be in the business of gettingat the truth of things?They were confident that they had

    history on their side. In the classical era,there had been no separation betweenphilosophy and science, and most of themen whom people now thought of asphilosophers were scientists, too. Theywere thought of as philosophers nowonly because their scientific theories(like Aristotles ideas on astronomy orphysics, for instance) had proved to be,in almost all cases, hopelessly wrong.

    Over the years, different groups of ideashad hived off the mother sun of naturalphilosophy and become proper experi-mental disciplinesfirst astronomy,then physics, then chemistry, then biol-ogy, psychology, and, most recently,neuroscience. Becoming an experimen-tal discipline meant devising methodsthat allowed propositions to be testedthat had previously been mere specula-tion. But it did not mean that a disci-pline had no further need of metaphys-icswhat, after all, would be the use of

    empirical methods without propositionsto test in the first place? Philosophycould still play a role in science: it couldexamine the concepts that scientistswere working with, testing them for co-herence, and it could serve as sciencesspeculative branch, imagining hypothe-ses that were too outlandish or too pro-visional for a working scientist to botherwith but which might, in the future,yield unexpected fruit.

    In 1974, when Pat was studying the

    brain in Winnipeg and Paul wasworking on his first book, ThomasNagel, a philosopher at Princeton whopracticed just the sort of philosophy thatthey were trying to define themselvesagainst, published an essay called WhatIs It Like to Be a Bat? Imagine being abat, Nagel suggested. You are small andcovered with thin fur; you have long,thin arms attached to your middle withwebbing; you are nearly blind. Duringthe day, you hang upside down, asleep,

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    your feet gripping a branch or a beam;at dusk you wake up and fly about, look-ing for insects to eat, finding your waywith little high-pitched shrieks fromwhose echoes you deduce the shape ofyour surroundings. Insofar as I canimagine this (which is not very far), hewrote, it tells me only what it would belike for meto behave as a bat behaves.But that is not the question. I want toknow what it is like for a batto bea bat.

    The purpose of this exercise, Nagelexplained, was to demonstrate that,however impossible it might be for hu-mans to imagine, it was very likely thatthere was somethingit was like to be abat, and that thing, that set of factsthe bats intimate experience, its pointof view, its consciousnesscould notbe translated into the sort of objectivelanguage that another creature couldunderstand. Humans might eventuallyunderstand pretty much everything else

    about bats: the microchemistry of theirbrains, the structure of their muscles,why they sleep upside downall thosethings were a matter of analyzing thephysical body of the bat and observinghow it functioned, which was, howeverdifficult, just part of ordinary science.But what it is like to bea bat was per-manently out of the reach of humanconcepts.

    This shouldnt be surprising, Nagelpointed out: to be a realist is to believe

    that there is no special, magical rela-tionship between the world and thehuman mind, and that there are there-fore likely to be many things about theworld that humans are not capable ofgrasping, just as there are many thingsabout the world that are beyond thecomprehension of goats. But if the batsconsciousnessthe what-it-is-like-to-be-a-batis not graspable by humanconcepts, while the bats physicalmakeup is, then it is very difficult to

    imagine how humans could come tounderstand the relationship betweenthem. To describe physical matter is touse objective, third-person language,but the experience of the bat is irreduc-ibly subjective. There is a missing con-ceptual link between the twowhatlater came to be called an explanatory

    gap. To argue, as some had, that link-ing consciousness to brain was simply amatter of declaring an identity betweenthemthe mind just isthe brain, andthats all there is to it, the way that waterjust is H

    2Owas to miss the point.

    Nagels was the sort of argument thatrepresented everything Pat couldntstand about philosophy. Various phi-losophers today think that science isnever going to be able to understandconsciousness, she said in her lectures,and one of their most appealing argu-

    mentsI dont know why its appealing,but it seems to beis I cant imaginehow you could get pain out of meat, Icant imaginehow you could get seeingthe color blue out of neurons firing.Now, whether you can or cant imaginecertain developments in neuroscience isnot an interesting metaphysical factabout the worldits a not very interest-ing psychological fact about you. Butwhen she mocked her colleagues for ex-amining their intuitions and conceptsrather than looking to neuroscience she

    rarely acknowledged that, for many ofthem, intuitions and concepts were pre-cisely what the problem of consciousnesswas about. Those were the data. Most ofthem were materialists: they were con-vinced that consciousness somehow isthe brain, but they doubted whether hu-mans would ever be able to make senseof that.

    Part of the problem was that Patwas by temperament a scientist, and, asthe philosopher Daniel Dennett haspointed out, in science a counterintui-

    tive result is prized more than an ex-pected one, whereas in philosophy, if anargument runs counter to intuition, itmay be rejected on that ground alone.Given a knockdown argument for anintuitively unacceptable conclusion, oneshould assume there is probably some-thing wrong with the argument thatone cannot detect, Nagel wrote in1979. To create understanding, phi-losophy must convince. That means itmust produce or destroy belief, rather

    In Shakespeare a lover turns into an assas you would expect. People confusetheir consciences with ghosts and witches.Old men throw everything away

    because they panic and cant feel their lives.They pinch themselves, pierce themselves with twigs,cliffs, lightning, and dieyes, finallyin glad pain.

    You marry a woman youve never talked to,a woman you thought was a boy.Sixteen years go by as a curtain billowsonce, twice. Your children are lost,they come back, you dont remember how.A love turns to a statue in a dress, the statuecomes back to life. Oh God, its all so realisticI cant stand it. Whereat I weep and sing.

    Such a relief, to burst from the theatreinto our cool, imaginary streetswhere we know whos who and whats what,and command with Metrocards our destinations.Where no one with a story struggling in himconvulses as it eats its way out,and no one in an antiseptic corridor,or in deserts or in downtown darkling plains,staggers through an Act that just will not end,eyes burning with the burning of the dead.

    James Richardson

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    than merely provide us with a consis-tent set of things to say. And belief,unlike utterance, should not be underthe control of the will, however moti-vated. It should be involuntary. Thedivide between those who, when forcedto choose, will trust their instincts andthose who will trust an argument that

    convinces them is at least as deep as thedivide between mind-body agnosticsand committed physicalists, and linesup roughly the same way.

    When Pat first started going aroundto philosophy conferences and talkingabout the brain, she felt that everyonewas laughing at her. Even thorough-going materialists, even scientificallyminded ones, simply couldnt see why aphilosopher needed to know about neu-rons. Part of the problem was that, atthe time, during the first thrilling de-

    cades of artificial intelligence, it seemedpossible that computers would soon beable to do everything that minds coulddo, using silicon chips instead of brains.

    So if minds could run on chips as well ason neurons, the reasoning went, whybother about neurons? If the mind was,in effect, software, and if the mind waswhat you were interested in, then forphilosophical purposes surely the brainthe hardwarecould be regarded as justplumbing. Nobody thought it was nec-

    essary to study circuit boards in orderto talk about Microsoft Word. A philos-opher of mind ought to concern him-self with what the mind did, not how itdid it. Moreover, neuroscience was work-ing at the wrong level: tiny neuronalstructures were just too distant, concep-tually, from the macroscopic compo-nents of thought, things like emotionsand beliefs.

    As far as Pat was concerned, though,to imagine that the stuff of the brainwas irrelevant to the study of the mind

    was no more than a new, more sophis-ticated form of dualism. Software andhardware, immaterial spirits and pinealglandsit was Descartes all over again,

    she would fume to Paul when she gothome. This was what happened when abunch of math and logic types startedtalking about the mind, she thoughtthey got all caught up in abstractionsand forgot that humans were animals.The mind wasnt some sort of computerprogram but a biological thing that

    had been cobbled together, higgledy-piggledy, in the course of a circuitous,wasteful, and particular evolution. Yes,of course neuroscience felt pretty dis-tant from philosophy at this point, butthat was onlywhy couldnt people seethis?because the discipline was in itsinfancy. The connections hadnt beenfilled in yet. What she objected to wasthe notion that neuroscience wouldneverbe relevant to philosophical con-cerns. That seemed to her just plainstupid.

    When Nagel wrote about conscious-ness and the brain in the nineteen-sev-enties, he was an exception: during thedecades of behaviorism, the mind-bodyproblem had been ignored. But then,in the early nineteen-nineties, the prob-lem was dramatically revived, owing inpart to an unexpected rearguard actionlaunched by a then obscure long-hairedAustralian philosopher named DavidChalmers. Chalmers is a generationyounger than the Churchlands, and he isone of a very few philosophers these days

    who are avowedly dualist. He believesthat consciousness isnt physical. Itspretty easy to imagine a zombie, Chalm-ers argueda creature physically iden-tical to a human, functioning in all theright ways, having conversations, sittingon park benches, playing the flute, butsimply lacking all conscious experience.So if one could imagine a person physi-cally identical to the real David Chalm-ers but without consciousness then itwould seem that consciousness could notbe a physical thing.

    Maybe consciousness was actuallyanother sort of thing altogether, hethoughta fundamental entity in theuniverse, a primitive, like mass, time, orspace. This theory would be a kind ofdualism, Chalmers had to admit, butnot a mystical sort; it would be compat-ible with the physical sciences because itwould not alter themit would be anaddition. As Chalmers began to develophis theory of consciousness as a primi-tive, the implications started to multi-

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    ply. Once you had separated conscious-ness from biology, a lot of constraintssimply disappeared. If consciousnesswas a primitive like mass or space, thenperhaps it was as universal as mass orspace. Perhaps even systems like ther-mostats, he speculated, with their onesimple means of response, were con-

    scious in some extremely basic way. Youcould start talking about panpsychismthe idea that consciousness exists, insome very basic form, in all matter, evenat the level of the atom. On the face ofit, of course, he realized that panpsych-ism sounded a little crazy. And therewas a pretty good philosophical argu-ment against it (of the customary form:either its false or its trivial; either youare pushed into claiming that atoms arethinking about cappuccinos or you re-treat to the uninteresting and obvious

    position that atoms have the potential tocontribute to larger things that thinkabout cappuccinos). But he found it ap-pealing anyway, and, despite its mysti-cal or Buddhist overtones, it felt toChalmers, at root, naturalistic. He likedthe idea that humans were continuouswith the rest of the world, even the in-animate parts of it, even stones and riv-ersthat consciousness penetrated verydeep, perhaps all the way down into thenatural order of things.

    Right from the beginning, Pat washappy to find that scientists wel-comed her. They certainly were a lotfriendlier to her than many philosophers.When she started attending neurosci-ence conferences, she found that, farfrom dismissing her as a fuzzy-mindedhumanities type, they were delighted thata philosopher should take an interest intheir work. At a conference in the earlyeighties, she met Francis Crick, who,having discovered the secret of life, thestructure of DNA, as a young man, had

    decided that he wanted to study the othergreat mystery, consciousness.Francis discovered Pat at a meeting

    back East and was amazed that a philos-opher had all the same prejudices thathe did, Paul says. He invited her outto the Salk Institute and, on hearingthat she had a husband who was also in-terested in these things, invited me tocome out, too. We came and spent, whatwas it, five days?

    Yes, we did.

    He was still having weekly meetingswith you when he knew he was dying.You would come home despairing atmaking headway with him.

    He thought the strategy of lookingfor the neural correlates of conscious-ness was likely to be fruitful, but I be-came very skeptical of it. It seemed tome more likely that we were going to

    need to know about attention, aboutmemory, about perception, about emo-tionsthat we were going to have tosolve many of the problems about theway the brain works before we weregoing to understand consciousness, andthen it would sort of just fall out.

    He was one of the people who madethe problem of consciousness respect-able again, Paul says. Some people inscience thought that it was a ghost prob-lem. The behaviorists thought talk ofinner subjective phenomena was a waste

    of time, like alchemy.There were lots of neuroscientistswho thought consciousness was such adiffcult issue that wed never get there.

    The psychologist and neuroscien-tist V. S. Ramachandran turned up atU.C.S.D. as a junior faculty memberaround the same time Pat and Paul ar-rived. Paul met him first, when Ra-machandran went to one of his talks be-cause he was amused by the arroganceof its titleHow the Brain Works.

    Then Pat started observing the work inRamachandrans lab. She saw him per-form a feat that seemed to her nearly asastonishing as curing the blind: seatingat a table a patient suffering from painin a rigid phantom arm, he held up amirror in such a way that the patientsworking arm appeared in the position ofthe missing one, and then instructed

    him to move it. As if by magic, the pa-tient felt the movement in his phantomlimb, and his discomfort ceased. Patspent more and more time at Rama-chandrans lab, and later on she collabo-rated with him on a paper titled A Cri-tique of Pure Vision, which argued thatthe function of vision was not to repre-sent the world but to help a creature sur-vive, and that it had evolved, accord-ingly, as a partial and fractured systemthat served the more basic needs of themotor system.

    These days, many philosophers givePat credit for admonishing them that aperson who wants to think seriouslyabout the mind-body problem has topay attention to the brain. But this ac-knowledgment is not always extendedto Pat herself, or to the work she doesnow. Although some of Churchlandsviews have taken root in mainstreamphilosophy, she is not part of it, NedBlock, a philosopher at New York Uni-versity, wrote in a review of one of her

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    books. Unfortunately, Churchland . . .approaches many conceptual issues inthe sciences of the mind like the moreantiphilosophical of scientists. Al-though she tried to ignore it, Pat waswounded by this review. But it was true;in some ways she had simply left thefield. Although she often talks to scien-tists, she says she hasnt got around togiving a paper to a philosophy depart-

    ment in five years. These days, she oftenfeels that the philosophical debate overconsciousness is more or less a waste oftime.

    There is one area of traditional phi-losophy, however, in which Pat stilltakes an active interest, and that is eth-ics. She and Paul are the two philoso-phers in an interdisciplinary group atU.C.S.D. that is trying to drum up fund-ing for research into the implications ofneuroscience for ethics and the law.

    I think the more we know about

    these things, the more well be able tomake reasonable decisions, Pat says.Suppose someone is a genetic mutantwho has a bad upbringing: we knowthat the probability of his being self-destructively violent goes way, way upabove the normal. How do we treatsuch people? Do we wait until they ac-tually do something horrendous or issome kind of prevention in order?Should all male children be screenedfor such mutations and the parents in-

    formed so that they will be especiallyresponsible with regard to how thesechildren are brought up?

    Why not? Paul says. I guess theycould be stigmatized.

    Theres a guy at U.S.C. who wantedto know what the activity of the frontalcortex looked like in people on deathrow, and the amazing result was thishuge effect that shows depressed activ-

    ity in frontal structures. These peoplehave compromised executive function.Now, we dont really know whether itsa cause or an effectI mean maybe ifyoure on death row your frontal struc-ture deteriorates. But of course publicsafety is a paramount concern. We dontwant these people running loose even ifits not their own fault that they are theway they are.

    Well, given that theyre such a se-vere danger to the society, we could in-carcerate them in some way, Paul says.

    We could put a collar on their anklesand track their whereabouts. We couldsay, We have to put this subdural thingin your skull which will monitor ifyoure having rage in your amygdala,and we can automatically shut youdown with a nice shot of Valium. Itslike having somebody whos got theblack plaguewe do have the right toquarantine people though its not theirfault. Heinlein wrote a story

    Were back to Heinlein! How funny.

    This just reminded me. He hadwild, libertarian views. The story con-cerned how you treated people whowere convicted by criminal trials. Ei-ther you could undergo a psychologicalreadjustment that would fix you or, be-cause you cant force that on people,you could go and live in a community

    that was something like the size of Ar-izona, behind walls that were thirty feethigh, filled with people like you whohad refused the operation. The storywas about somebody who chose to goin. What annoyed me about itand itwould annoy you, too, I thinkwasthat Heinlein was plainly on the side ofthe guy who had refused to have hisbrain returned to normal. He tells thisglorious story about how this guy man-aged to triumph over all sorts of adverseconditions in this perfectly awful state

    of nature.Paul stops to think about this for amoment.

    You and I have a confidence thatmost people lack, he says to Pat. Wethink we can continue to be liberals andstill move this forward.

    Im not so sure, Pat says.

    Its been a long time since PaulChurchland read science fiction, butmuch of his work is focussed far intothe future, in territory that is almost

    completely imaginary. For instance,both he and Pat like to speculate abouta day when whole chunks of English,especially the bits that constitute folkpsychology, are replaced by scientificwords that call a thing by its propername rather than some outworn meta-phor. Surely this will happen, theythink, and as people learn to speakdifferently they will learn to experiencedifferently, and sooner or later eventheir most private introspections will beaffected. Already Paul feels pain dif-

    ferently than he used to: when he cutshimself shaving now he feels not painbut something more complicatedfirstthe sharp, superficial A-delta-fibre pain,and then, a couple of seconds later, thesickening, deeper feeling of C-fibre painthat lingers. The new words, far frombeing reductive or dry, have enhancedhis sensations, he feels, as an oenophilescomplex vocabulary enhances the tasteof wine.

    Paul and Pat, realizing that the rev-

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    olutionary neuroscience they dream ofis still in its infancy, are nonetheless al-ready preparing themselves for this fu-ture, making the appropriate adjust-ments in their everyday conversation.One afternoon recently, Paul says, hewas home making dinner when Patburst in the door, having come straight

    from a frustrating faculty meeting. Shesaid, Paul, dont speak to me, my sero-tonin levels have hit bottom, my brainis awash in glucocorticoids, my bloodvessels are full of adrenaline, and if itwerent for my endogenous opiates Idhave driven the car into a tree on theway home. My dopamine levels needlifting. Pour me a Chardonnay, and Illbe down in a minute. Paul and Pathave noticed that it is not just they whotalk this waytheir students now talkof psychopharmacology as comfortably

    as of food.When their children, Mark andAnne, were very young, Pat and Paulimagined raising them according totheir principles: the children wouldgrow up understanding the world asscientists understood it, they vowed,and would speak a language very dif-ferent from that spoken by children inthe past. Paul told them bedtime sto-ries about boys and girls escaping fromdanger by using science to solve prob-lems. He took them outside at night

    and showed them how, if they tiltedtheir heads to just the right angle, sothat they saw the ecliptic plane of theplanets as horizontal, they could actu-ally see the planets and the earth asCopernicus described them, and feel,he told them, at home in the solar sys-tem for the first time. Then, one eve-ning when Mark was three or four, heand Paul were sitting by the firetheyhad a fire every night in Winnipeg inthe winterand Paul was teachinghim to look at the flames like a physi-

    cist. He told him how the different col-ors in the fire indicated different tem-peratures, and how the wood turnedinto flame and what that meant aboutthe conversion of energy. The boy wasfascinated; but then it occurred to Paulthat if he were to sit in front of a fire

    with a friend his age they would barelybe able to talk to each other. He sud-denly worried that he and Pat werecutting their children off from the

    world that they belonged to. Better to

    wait until the world had changed, hethought.

    Neither Pat nor Paul feels much nos-talgia for the old words, or the wordsthat will soon be old. They appreciatelanguage as an extraordinary tool, prob-ably the most extraordinary tool ever de-veloped. But in the grand evolutionary

    scheme of things, in which humans arejust one animal among many, and notalways the most successful one, lan-guage looks like quite a minor phenom-enon, they feel. Animals dont have lan-guage, but they are conscious of theirsurroundings and, sometimes, of them-selves. Pat and Paul emphatically rejectthe idea that language and thought are,deeply, one: that the language we nowuse reflects thoughts innate structure;that thought can take only the form inwhich we humans now know it; that

    there could be no thought without lan-guage. Moreover, the new is the new! Itis so exciting to think about revolutionsin science leading to revolutions inthought, and even in what seems, to theuninitiated, to be raw feeling, that, bycomparison, old words and old senti-ments seem dull indeed.

    In recent years, Paul has spent muchof his time simulating neural networkson a computer in an attempt to figureout what the structure of cognitionmight be, if it isnt language. Linguistic

    theories of how people think have al-ways seemed to him psychologically un-realisticrequiring far too sophisti-cated a capacity for logical inference, forone thing, and taking far too long, ap-plying general rules to particular cases,step by step. In order to operate at theastonishing speed at which biologi-cal creatures actually figure things out,thinking must take place along parallel,rather than serial, paths, he believes,and must be able to take immediate ad-vantage of every little fact or rule of

    thumb it has gleaned from experience inthe past. Thinking must also be distrib-uted widely across the brain, since indi-

    vidual cells continually deteriorate with-out producing, most of the time, anynoticeable effect. It seems to him likelythat thinking takes place simultaneouslyalong millions of different neural path-ways, each of which was formed by aparticular stimulation in the past andwhich is, in turn, greatly or minutely al-

    tered by the new experience of the pres-ent. All of these pathways, connectingeach neuron to millions of others, formunique patterns that together are thecreatures memory. When the creatureencounters something new, its brain ac-tivates the pattern that the new thingmost closely resembles in order to figureout what to dowhether the new thingis a threatening predator or a philo-sophical concept. Humans being ani-mals, cogitating on the highest level is,Paul believes, just an esoteric form of

    ordinary perception.Sometimes Paul likes to imagine aworld in which language has disap-peared altogether. We know that thetwo hemispheres of the brain can func-tion separately but communicate silentlythrough the corpus callosum, he rea-sons. Presumably, it will be possible,someday, for two separate brains to belinked artificially in a similar way and toexchange thoughts infinitely faster andmore clearly than they can now throughthe muddled, custom-clotted, serially

    processed medium of speech. He al-ready talks about himself and Pat as twohemispheres of the same brain. Whoknows, he thinks, maybe in his chil-drens lifetime this sort of talk will notbe just a metaphor.

    If, someday, two brains could bejoined, what would be the result? Atwo-selved mutant like Joe-Jim, reallyjust a drastic version of Siamese twins,or something subtler, like one brain onlymore so, the pathways from one set ofneurons to another fusing over time into

    complex and unprecedented arrange-ments? Would it work only with similarbrains, already sympathetic, or, at least,both human? Or might a human some-day be joined to an animal, blending to-gether two forms of thinking as well astwo heads? If so, a philosopher mightafter all come to know what it is like tobe a bat, although, since bats cant speak,perhaps he would be able only to senseits batness without being able to de-scribe it.