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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Taft Lecture, Philosophy: Dr William Bechtel. " Dynamic Mechanistic Explanations and Endogenously Active Brains"

Dr WIlliam Bechtel,
Department of Philosophy, Center for Chronobiology, Science Studies Program, and Interdisciplinary Program in Cognitive Science University of California, San Diego.

Only recently have philosophers of science caught up with biology and psychology in recognizing that explanation often involves specifying a mechanism responsible for a phenomenon rather than subsuming the phenomenon under a law. But the accounts of mechanistic explanation advanced often neglect the dynamics exhibited by complexly organized mechanisms. Dynamical systems theory offers tools for describing dynamical behavior but downplays the importance of identifying the parts and operations of the mechanism producing that behavior. I argue that there is an important class of explanations – dynamic mechanistic explanations – in which the tools of dynamical systems analysis and mechanistic science are coordinated. In this talk I show how this provides a framework for understanding endogenously active brains and their contribution to cognition. This contrasts with the reactive approach that has long been dominant in psychology and neuroscience, as reflected in mechanistic models that downplay dynamics and, specifically, neglect endogenously generated dynamics. I review some of the evidence for endogenous activity in brains and consider the implications not only for understanding cognition but also for accounts of explanation offered by philosophers of science.

Lectre date: Monday, March 15, 2010

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