Explaining the Brain

Carl Craver, Explaining the Brain: Mechanisms and the Mosaic Unity of Neuroscience, OUP, 2007.

The book has been  released in Europe.  Americans will have to wait a few more weeks, though they can pre-oder it at Amazon.

I observed the development of this book from its very beginning, and I used its final draft in teaching a course on functions and mechanisms last spring.  I’m glad I now have a printed copy on my desk.

Many philosophers of mind rely on the old notion that explanation is given by laws, and therefore talk about psychological laws as providing psychological explanations.  Many others have thought for a long time that this is the wrong model of explanation for psychology and neuroscience, that explanation in psychology and neuroscience involves something like mechanisms.  Some people (Wimsatt, Cummins, Bechtel and Richardson, Glennan, etc.) have offered alternative models of functional or mechanistic explanation, though they haven’t convinced everyone.  In this book, Carl Craver offers what seems to me the most detailed, systematic, and adequate account of mechanistic explanation to date.

Many discussions in philosophy of mind rely on the distinction between the cognitive and the neural level (or computational/implementational, or role/realizer, or whathaveyou).  Many others have thought for a long time that this two-levelism (to use Bill Lycan’s label) is misguided, but no one took the time and effort to work out in detail an alternative picture of the many levels relevant to explaining the mind and how they can be integrated into a coherent story by the many fields that study the mind and brain.  Carl has.

I don’t agree with every detail of Carl’s story, but I think any serious philosopher of mind, psychology, or neuroscience ought to read this book and learn as much as possible from it.

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