patricia churchland

patricia churchland


intro’d to Patricia via Stephen‘s share:

No small part of what I say on learning today is based on reading people like Patricia Smith Churchland 25 years ago

Original Tweet:


nov 2015 – sante fe institute -Touching a Nerve: The Self as Brain

the deepest part of value.. the value of living/surviving..

where do moral values come from.. those values where individual will incur cost to self in order to benefit another… where do those come from…

richard dawkins’ book – selfish gene – we are all selfish – moral values have to be imposed from outside… many have bought into that.. because of this very ancient structure that does orient us to our own survival….

darwin – ascent of man – 1871 – asked the same question.. where does moral sense come from .. 1\ social instincts 2\ habits/skills acquired/learned 3\ reason/problem solving

8 min – having a social nature and then learning the social skills of how to be a social being..

11 min – 4.9% of my genome is neanderthal… mostly digestion and immune system

12 min – on hunter gatherers… probably no organized religion

13 min – sociality..hence morality.. independent of whatever role religion might have played from about 10000 yrs ago till now

that sociality has changed much over time.. like color vision…

14 min – on animals (monkeys/chimps) showing reconciliation and consolation and pro social behaviors… capacity for really impressive self control.. collaboration…. many of hallmarks of kind of behavior we think of as moral in hunter/gatherer groups or contemporary small groups..

jo freeman ness

17 min – we can begin to see darwin is right… for origin of social instincts

18 min – gram for gram warm blooded has to eat 10 times as much as cold blooded companions – greater energy use

19 min – mother nature had to figure out a strategy – ie: take those mechanisms of plasticity/learning already present in reptiales and just scale them way way up.. so the creatures are smart… so being smart is a way to deal w/pressure of having to eat so much

20 min – development of completely diff structure.. cortex/neocortex

21 min – so.. have to be born immature… and then brain tunes it up to all the localities..

allowing emergence.. via whimsy et al..

23 min – so if going to be smart.. have to be born immature.. and so need someone to take care of you while young

while all ages.. ie: cure ios city

so vastly strong bond between mother and baby.. her strength extends to the infant.. becomes part of her..

jean liedloff ness

25 min – change from caring only for myself.. to caring for the other.. in a way that i’m always going to be willing to incur a cost for the other…

so very strong interaction between caring for baby and pleasure you feel in company of baby and pain you feel at separation

26 min – part of underlying story of this…  oxytocin and vassopressin in mammalian brain – put to new jobs… ie: when cuddling/suckling.. oxytocin released in both.. and necessary for milk ejection.. so in body as well as brain.. so oxytocin very important part.. but only part.. must also be involved.. opiods your brain makes… also regulate bonding between mother and child

27 min – out of hypotholumas.. hippocampus..

28 min – so hub: oxytocin, opiods, dopamine.. as approximation of a story where sociality came from… way this story develops.. don’t have to worry about defectors.. because.. humans are social animals..

so sociability a basic value just as survivability is

30 min – me, kin, kith…. me and offspring and mates


31 min – the social instinct that darwin talked about

33 min – basic finding: density of receptors for oxytocin.. unique to one and not the other.. one in part of reward system… that something as clear cut could be largely responsible that we might have thought was very sophisticated.. mainly monogamous behavior

34 min – oxytocin decreases defensive postures; increases levels of care and trust; autonomic arousal decreases; enhances the saliency of social signals..

35 min – on decrease in defensive postures: turns out.. when oxytocin goes up .. cortical (stress hormone) goes down.. and vice versa .. part of what’s going on.. it allows you to relax

grooming – offer coffee.. begin to chat…

36 min – goes through rest..

37 min – looking at brain helps.. if animals like to be together, trusting each other, cooperation can emerge… ie: wolves… on the raven leading them… why would the raven do that..? when he sees wolves are successful… then goes and gets other ravens..and they are successful… so a kind of coop amongst wolves.. and diff coop based on learning between ravens and wolves…

39 min – basic take on platform for sociality… basics for it… but not whole story… also have social practices picked up and learned by the young… important because although we have the platform for sociality.. we haven’t abandoned the bit for self-care, ie: we’re not saints.. so often conflict.. so groups have ways to keep that to a minimum so doesn’t impair whole… so this is where the reward system comes in..


what if that’s all wrong.. ie: reward system

needing (or thinking we need) an incentive.. might be a pretty good sign we are doing work/art wrong

41 min – understanding reward system.. those feelings you have as conscience speaks to you .. a reflection of those you norms you internalized as a child.. part of that system… ie: skills and habits: proceduralization; much is not conscious; assessing relevance, salience; smart, clever, appropriate

42 min – when small – part of what huge cortex has to do is learn the way of the group/norms.. and learn about quirks of individuals.. tuning up of reward system has much to do w/emotions… ie: approval/disapproval.. change structure of basal ganglia

@rodolfollinas – loc 636 of Oliver Sacks‘ musicophilia

approval/disapproval: part of teaching norms; causally affects the brain; control of impulses is learnable; imitation is pleasurable

43 min – i don’t think i understand this very well – but imitation seems to be pleasurable.. but in a very nuanced way – up to a point but not too much

cortex is extremely important.. but absolutely important.. basil ganglia – loops and loops and loops.. exactly how reward interacts w/cortex is not known..

44 min – so .. can we really choose then..? seems many have capacity for self-control.. it’s loops between cortex and sub cortical structures that are critical for self-control..

46 min – in hunger/gatherer groups.. norms: keeping conflict at min; how to take care of outside threats.. et al.. but beyond small groups.. have need for codifying rules.. writing them down (only emerged about 5000 yrs ago)… important for larger groups to have rules… and to have an unobservable who can observe you.. even if you think you’re alone..

whoa.. – strong link there to rewards thinking/assumptions..

48 min – orangutan and dog

49 min – part of the system being so big and so complex… that there’s plenty of slop in it.. so not every behavior has to be geared toward your reproductive fitness

50 min – start of q&a

52 min – one thing i didn’t address: aggression.. cross group aggression.. really not understood.. probably wasn’t much earlier on.. i think we don’t understand aggression very well..on link between aggression and pleasure.. and pinker.. and hoping he’s right.. but i greatly fear that when times get tough and people get hungry.. the better angels of our nature are not that close..

56 min – i don’t know what to say about the internet – sherry turkle – et al – i don’t really see the data… i want to see the data.. susan greenfield very keen for a while in scaring parents.. watching tv playing games and brains rotting.. then later.. children that have difficulty paying attention actually increase capacity by playing video games..

58 min – beautiful question and i don’t know the answer…  as you have devices that allow you to off load some of your cognitive jobs.. then your memory is not as powerful as it was.. i was thinking about this one while canoe ing up yucon.. we asked locals about course of river.. and they didn’t want to show us on map.. they just wanted to tell us.. from the memory… their detail/memory was amazing.. i imagine reading/writing has made us cognitively more powerful

? so can’t you ie: read/write more the more you can off load..?

document everythingself-talk as data

1:02 – the brain re organization is astonishing in these two behavioral states: awake and asleep.. ie: when awake.. cells in that structure fire at.. huge hertz.. when asleep they shut down

on ie’s of awakenings..

Oliver Sacks


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Patricia Smith Churchland (born July 16, 1943) is a Canadian-American analytical philosopher noted for her contributions to neurophilosophy and the philosophy of mind. She is UC President’s Professor of Philosophy Emerita at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), where she has taught since 1984. She has also held an adjunct professorship at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies since 1989. In 2015, she was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Educated at the University of British Columbia, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Oxford, she taught philosophy at the University of Manitoba from 1969 to 1984 and is married to the philosopher Paul Churchland. The New Yorker magazine observed regarding the philosophical couple that, “Their work is so similar that they are sometimes discussed, in journals and books, as one person.”.


Churchland first met her husband, the philosopher Paul Churchland, while they were both enrolled in a class on Plato at the University of Pittsburgh, and they were married after she completed her B.phil at Oxford University. Their children are Mark M. Churchland (born 1972) and Anne K. Churchland (born 1974), both of whom are neuroscientists