Published online by Cambridge University Press: 02 February 2010
A small movement dedicated to applying neuroscience to traditional philosophical problems and using philosophical methods to illuminate issues in neuroscience began 20–25 years ago and has been gaining momentum ever since. The central thought behind it is that certain basic questions about human cognition, questions that have been studied in many cases for millennia, will be answered only by a philosophically sophisticated grasp of what contemporary neuroscience is teaching us about how the human brain processes information.
The evidence for this proposition is now overwhelming. The philosophical problem of perception has been transformed by new knowledge about the vision systems in the brain. Our understanding of memory has been deepened by knowing that two quite different systems in the brain are involved in short- and long-term memory. Knowing something about how language is implemented in the brain has transformed our understanding of the structure of language, especially the structure of many breakdowns in language. And so on. On the other hand, a great deal is still unclear about the implications of this new knowledge of the brain. Are cognitive functions localized in the brain in the way assumed by most recent work on brain imaging? Does it even make sense to think of cognitive activity being localized in such a way? Does knowing about the areas active in the brain when we are conscious of something hold any promise for helping with long-standing puzzles about the nature and role of consciousness? And so on.