The Brain and the Meaning of Life
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The Brain and the Meaning of Life

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Why is life worth living? What makes actions right or wrong? What is reality and how do we know it? The Brain and the Meaning of Life draws on research in philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience to answer some of the most pressing questions about life's nature and value. Paul Thagard argues that evidence requires the abandonment of many traditional ideas about the soul, free will, and immortality, and shows how brain science matters for fundamental issues about reality, morality, and the meaning of life. The ongoing Brain Revolution reveals how love, work, and play provide good reasons for living. Defending the superiority of evidence-based reasoning over religious faith and philosophical thought experiments, Thagard argues that minds are brains and that reality is what science can discover. Brains come to know reality through a combination of perception and reasoning. Just as important, our brains evaluate aspects of reality through emotions that can produce both good and bad decisions. Our cognitive and emotional abilities allow us to understand reality, decide effectively, act morally, and pursue the vital needs of love, work, and play. Wisdom consists of knowing what matters, why it matters, and how to achieve it. The Brain and the Meaning of Life shows how brain science helps to answer questions about the nature of mind and reality, while alleviating anxiety about the difficulty of life in a vast universe. The book integrates decades of multidisciplinary research, but its clear explanations and humor make it accessible to the general reader.show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 296 pages
  • 152.4 x 233.68 x 20.32mm | 340.19g
  • Princeton University Press
  • New Jersey, United States
  • English
  • Reprint
  • 12 line illus.
  • 0691154406
  • 9780691154404
  • 442,593

Review quote

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2011 "[Thagard] offers a tightly reasoned, often humorous, and original contribution to the emerging practice of applying science to areas heretofore the province of philosophers, theologians, ethicists, and politicians: What is reality and how can we know it? Are mind and brain one or two? What is the source of the sense of self? What is love? What is the difference between right and wrong, and how can we know it? What is the most legitimate form of government? What is the meaning of life, and how can we find happiness in it? Thagard employs the latest tools and findings of science in his attempts to answer these (and additional) questions."--Michael Shermer, Science "A thoughtful and well-researched attempt to answer that most fundamental existential question: why not kill yourself? Or, to give it a positive spin, what gives life meaning? Thagard lays out detailed arguments that reality is knowable through science, that minds are nothing other than material brains and that there are no ultimate rights and wrongs handed down by a supernatural being."--New Scientist "Thagard's 'neural naturalism' promises nothing short of a conceptual revolution, or better, a paradigm shift. His evidence-based strategy uses the data from psychology and neuroscience to expose empirically based answers to questions such as, What is the meaning of life? What ought one to do? ... Thagard's reader-friendly text includes a glossary, endnotes, and extensive references."--Choice "The name of this well-written and ambitious book understates the breadth of its scope. The book deals with the relation of modern neuroscience not only to the meaning of life, but also to ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology... The discussion is rich, unorthodox, and frequently exciting."--Iddo Landau, Metapsychology Online Reviews "The book integrates decades of multidisciplinary research, but its clear explanations and humor make it accessible to the general reader."--Gaia Media News "[R]eaders will find much of the author's advice to be beneficial. The book contains many good suggestions for making one's life better including advice on how to be happier and how to make good decisions, all based on solid research in psychology and neuroscience. For anyone who is curious about current research in these fields, Thagard's book provides an accessible introduction to important concepts and theories."--Margery Lucas, Society "Thagard has published a string of distinguished books and papers on reasoning and scientific explanation, and was a pioneer in using cognitive science to study the way scientists think. The sections on reasoning bear the imprint of this work, and pack a lot of philosophy into a short span."--Dominic Murphy, Australian Review of Public Affairsshow more

Back cover copy

"The Brain and the Meaning of Life provides a highly informed account of the relevance of recent neuroscience to human life. It compellingly tells how humans, as biological creatures in a physical world, can find meaning and value."--William Bechtel, University of California, San Diego "Engagingly written for general readers, Thagard's book provides a nice description of current knowledge about the brain and explains how brain research bears on philosophical issues."--Gilbert Harman, Princeton Universityshow more

About Paul Thagard

Paul Thagard is professor of philosophy and director of the cognitive science program at the University of Waterloo, Canada. His books include Hot Thought: Mechanisms and Applications of Emotional Cognition and How Scientists Explain Disease.show more

Table of contents

Preface xi Acknowledgments xv Chapter 1: We All Need Wisdom 1 Why Live? 1 Sources of Wisdom 3 Philosophical Approaches 5 The Relevance of Minds and Brains 6 Looking Ahead 8 Conclusion 12 Chapter 2: Evidence Beats Faith 13 Faith versus Evidence 13 How Faith Works 14 How Evidence Works 20 Evidence and Inference in Science 23 Medicine: Evidence or Faith? 27 Evidence, Truth, and God 32 A Priori Reasoning and Thought Experiments 35 Conclusion 40 Chapter 3: Minds Are Brains 42 The Brain Revolution 42 Evidence That Minds Are Brains 43 Evidence for Dualism? 54 Objections to Mind-Brain Identity 59 Who Are You? 63 Conclusion 64 Chapter 4: How Brains Know Reality 67 Reality and Its Discontents 67 Knowing Objects 69 Appearance and Reality 72 Concepts 76 Knowledge beyond Perception 81 Coherence in the Brain 85 Coherence and Truth 90 Conclusion 92 Chapter 5: How Brains Feel Emotions 94 Emotions Matter 94 Valuations in the Brain 95 Cognitive Appraisal versus Bodily Perception 98 Synthesis: The EMOCON Model 100 Emotional Consciousness 105 Multilevel Explanations 108 Rationality and Affective Afflictions 111 Conclusion 116 Chapter 6: How Brains Decide 119 Big Decisions 119 Inference to the Best Plan 121 Decisions in the Brain 123 Changing Goals 126 How to Make Bad Decisions 133 Living without Free Will 137 Conclusion 140 Chapter 7: Why Life Is Worth Living 142 The Meaning of Life 142 Nihilism 143 Happiness 146 Goals and Meaning 149 Love 152 Work 158 Play 161 Conclusion 165 Chapter 8: Needs and Hopes 168 Wants versus Needs 168 Vital Needs 169 How Love, Work, and Play Satisfy Needs 171 Balance, Coherence, and Change 176 Hope versus Despair 177 Conclusion 182 Chapter 9: Ethical Brains 183 Ethical Decisions 183 Conscience and Moral Intuitions 184 Mirror Neurons 188 Empathy 190 Moral Motivation 192 Ethical Theory 195 Moral Objectivity 201 Responsibility 204 Conclusion 206 Chapter 10. Making Sense of It All 209 Connections Made 209 Wisdom Gained 213 What Kind of Government Should Countries Have? 215 How Can Creative Change Be Produced? 217 What Is Mathematical Knowledge? 221 Why Is There Something and Not Nothing? 224 The Future of Wisdom 226 Notes 231 Glossary 251 References 255 Index 271show more

Rating details

72 ratings
3.27 out of 5 stars
5 15% (11)
4 29% (21)
3 29% (21)
2 21% (15)
1 6% (4)
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