It had been some time since I had sat in a university lecture hall. But on March 30, a special event brought me to historic Havemeyer at Columbia University. The topic: morality and the brain. Patricia Churchland, whose research focuses on the interface between philosophy and neuroscience, offered answers to such unanswerable questions such as Can science tell us right from wrong? and Where do values come from? Dr. Churchland’s compelling and scrupulous theory — which takes into account evolutionary, genetic, neuroendocrinological, and behavioral evidence — appears in her new book, Braintrust (Princeton University Press). An in-depth review of her argument will appear here at The Beautiful Brain soon. Suffice it to say that it had also been some time since I had taken so many notes.
The greatly successful night was organized and sponsored by NeuWrite, a group of writers and scientists dedicated to the public dissemination of science, with support from the Dana Foundation. Dr. Churchland’s presentation was followed by a dialogue with City University of New York philosopher Jesse Prinz, whose theoretical thinking is also tied to scientific study. Churchland and Prinz might be called neurophilosophers, after Churchland’s 1989 book Neurophilosophy (The MIT Press). These are the rare responsible intellectuals who will always have me happily stuck to my seat.