Professor Patricia Smith Churchland
Smith Churchland, D. Litt. (hon), B. Phil., LLD (hon)
is UC President’s Professor of Philosophy at the
University of California, San Diego,
Adjunct Professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, and
Associate of the Computational Neuroscience Laboratory (Sejnowski
Lab) at the Salk Institute.
Patricia’s research focuses on the interface between neuroscience and philosophy. Although many philosophers used to dismiss the relevance of neuroscience on grounds that what mattered was “the software, not the hardware”, increasingly philosophers have come to recognize that understanding how the brain works is essential to understanding the mind.
She explores the impact of scientific developments on our understanding of consciousness, the self, free will, decision making, ethics, learning, and religion and issues concerning the neurobiological basis of consciousness, the self, and free will, as well as on more technical questions concerning to what degree the nervous system is hierarchically organized, how the difficult issue of co-ordination and timing is managed by nervous systems, and what are the mechanisms for the perceptual phenomenon of filling-in.
The central focus of her research has been the exploration and development of the hypothesis that the mind is the brain. Her first book, Neurophilosophy (1986), argued in detail for a co-evolution of psychology, philosophy and neuroscience to answer questions about how the mind represents, reasons, decides and perceives.
A major unanswered question in Neurophilosophy concerned the theoretical apparatus needed to bridge the gap between lower and higher levels of brain organization. She turned to this task in 1987, and began to collaborate with Terry Sejnowski on the book The Computational Brain (MIT 1992). She has been president of the American Philosophical Association (Pacific Division) and the Society for Philosophy and Psychology, and won a MacArthur Prize in 1991.
Patricia authored Brain-Wise: Studies in Neurophilosophy and Neurophilosophy: Toward a Unified Science of the Mind-Brain, and coauthored On the Contrary: Critical Essays, 1987–1997, Mind-Brain Continuum: Sensory Processes, and The Computational Brain.
Her papers include: The Impact of Neuroscience on Philosophy, The Big Questions: Do we have free will?, A neurophilosophical slant on consciousness research, Brain Wide Shut, How do neurons know?, The neural mechanisms of moral cognition: A multiple-aspect approach to moral judgment and decision-making, and Neural Representation and Neural Computation. Read the full list of her publications!
Watch Patricia Churchland – Morality and the Mammalian Brain, Patricia Smith Churchland – The Great Debate: Can Science Tell us Right From Wrong?, Patricia Churchland on Neurophilosophy and The Dalai Lama, and This is Your Brain on Morality. Listen to Pat Churchland on Eliminative Materialism and Neurophilosophy with Patricia Churchland (Brain Science Podcast).