Bill Newsome

Event Dates (Pacific Time): 
Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - 12:00pm

Neuroscience, explanation, and the problem of free will

Abstract: The ‘central dogma’ of neuroscience is that all our behavior and mental life—including our sense of a conscious, continuing self—is inextricably linked to the biology of the brain.  Neuroscience ‘explanations’, therefore, tend to account for mental phenomena such as thought, emotion, belief and choice in terms of the basic elements of cellular communication within the brain—action potentials, synapses and neuromodulation.  Such mechanistic accounts, which appear increasingly powerful, have been cited as evidence that ‘folk psychological’ explanations of behavior—including beliefs, values, freedom and responsibility—will be replaced ultimately by deeper and more accurate neuroscientific explanations.  In contrast, I argue that the deepest and most accurate accounts of behavior necessarily involve multiple levels of explanation.  Within neuroscience itself, the best explanations are inherently multilevel, appealing simultaneously to behavioral, circuit-level, cellular and genetic insights.  Outside the domain of neuroscience proper, human behavior depends additionally on multiple levels of social and cultural organization.  Each level of explanation complements and corrects, but does not replace, the others.  More than ever in our world, beliefs, values and choices matter.

Bill Newsome, Stanford University
12:00 PM
NSB Auditorium, UC San Diego