Taft Lecture, Philosophy: Dr William Bechtel 8 / 8

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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. ............................................................................................................................................ The Charles Phelps Taft Research Center provides competitive research support for tenure-track faculty, graduate students, and undergraduate students in 13 departments within the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences of the University of Cincinnati. Our mission is to promote scholarly research through fellowships and awards; foster critical conversations across disciplines; create and sustain an intellectual community for the exchange of ideas; and support lectures, conferences, seminars, study groups, and symposia in the Taft disciplines. Above all, we hope to fulfill and further Annie Sinton Taft's own vision of sustaining a "concentration of interest in the development of ideas." These recordings are being made available for noncommercial and educational use only. All rights to this recorded material belong to the authors. © 2010

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