Toward a New Behaviorism: The Case against Perceptual Reductionism

By William R. Uttal | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
THE CASE AGAINST PERCEPTUAL NEURCIREDUCTIONISM

In the past two or three decades, modern experimental psychology has become profoundly integrated into the neuroscience enterprise. Workers in cellular neurophysiology and perceptual science now move across the boundary between the two fields, hoping that understanding of the nature of the brainmind relationship will ultimately be found. This chapter deals with the relationship between the two fields and, in particular, the issue of whether or not behavioral (specifically meaning "psychophysical") findings can be transmuted into information about the underlying neurophysiological mechanisms.

As essential as progress in the neurosciences is for many important, even socially critical, needs of humankind, there remain many unknowns about how the two fields can and, therefore, should logically interact. The purpose of this chapter is to consider some of the basic issues, premises, and expectations that arise when neuroscientists from either background compare neurophysiological and psychophysical findings. My goal is to examine critically and dispassionately an issue that has all too often been overlooked in the day-to-day excitement of some of the stunning new findings coming from experimental studies in either of the two fields.

The proposition that psychophysical data may be useful in defining the underlying neural mechanisms has wide currency in today's perceptual neuroscience. It is so ingrained in the zeitgeist that even raising this issue disturbs some reductionistically oriented scientists in both fields. Nevertheless, I believe that that an open general discussion of this matter is very important and all too long deferred.

The fundamental issue raised is: Do constraints, limits, and barriers exist that can bar us from building the logical and conceptual bridges between

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