Neurophilosophy and the philosophy of neuroscience (II)

In the past years, most niches in applied and humanist sciences tend toward a holistic and contextual approach of the issues and theories they develop. This could be interpreted as an indirect effect of the theory of relativity which expanded from the physical theories to the actual processes and mechanisms of knowledge thus becoming, ipso facto, a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Or maybe the result of the exponential increase in the evolution of knowledge in the past decades, contributing to accumulating sufficient information so as to see more easily the big picture. Maybe it will surprise you to find out about neurophilosophy and neuroethics from a neuromarketing blog, but the greatest challenge in neuromarketing does not stem from determining what areas in the brain light up at what second in a TV commercial, but rather from the interpretation of that data. And this is where we come across a series of issues which cannot be tackled through simple software and databases analysis but require the ability to take into account and interpret all the factors that influence the result (age, gender, culture, identity, various types of particularities etc.), to understand how they interact and to analyze everything in its context. That’s why any professional in a “neuro” field must be up-to-date on the complementary niches that may bring added value to one’s own knowledge.

Neurophilosophy is the natural child of the philosophy of mind and science (which developed in the past 30 years) and it raises questions related to the nature of the consciousness, action, decision-making, knowledge or norms, through two different methods: cognitive neuroscience and computational neuroscience. One of the first and most important works in the field is Patricia and Paul Churchland’s book, Neurophilosophy, which aims to be a sort of initiation of neuroscientists in the philosophy of science and of philosophers in neuroscience, synthesizing the main theories on philosophy of science and on brain function.

In a 2010 paper, Neurophilosophy at Work, Churchland explores from a neuroscience perspective the impact of empirical sciences on the mind, the nature of consciousness and cognition and the representation of the world in relation with the neuronal activity. All these are part of the effort of understanding the nature of human subjectivity.

In July, The Guardian published an article on several cases of patients in coma among which Robin Gibb, the Bee Gees’ singer, who reacted to hearing familiar songs or their names. The conclusions were presented in the annual meeting of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness at the end of July. The fact that music induces positive emotions to patients in a coma indicates that musical stimuli bring memories and/or increase the level of perceptual awareness. However, this discovery raises new issues related to the nature and manner in which consciousness works, issues which will be significantly debated in the land of philosophy. An older study on the relationship between neuroscience and free will, which is one of the main never-ending philosophical debates, tackles this information from a different standpoint: how we relate to the world and our own lives, and tries to determine to what extent our daily decisions belong to us or are subject to an at least partial determinism. And this is only one of the many crossroads between neurophilosophy and neuromarketing.

Neuroethics is another field that targets both philosophy and marketing and it can be seen either as the neuroscience of ethics or the ethics of neuroscience. Neuromarketing is an emerging field, where practical studies evolve alongside theoretical research and this is why discussions regarding ethics are vast and treated with the sternest seriousness. The theory according to which the methods used in neuromarketing entail a level of manipulation raises the issues of using neuroimaging devices, subliminal messages or influencing the decision-making process. Most of those were already classified as myths, by presenting and explaining the devices, the methodology and the techniques used in neuromarketing, characteristics that eventually lead to a better understanding of the limits of this field. However, the philosophical debate of this theory is still strong and functions as complementary to neuromarketing studies.

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