In re: Churchland on prediction

John McCreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)
Mon, 18 Sep 1995 08:30:52 +0900

Vance Geiger asks,

"1. How does Churchland deal with the confounding of
prediction as an end in itself and prediction as a

The quick answer is, on my reading she doesn't raise
this issue. She is entirely focused on prediction as a
process, both historically (how scientists developed,
tested, proved or disproved predictions about the
brain) and neurobiologically (how the brain
coordinates muscular output with physical input,
allowing for actions like reaching a cup of coffee).

I should note, however, that she is no simple-minded
determinist. She seems quite comfortable with the
idea that even scientists make mistakes, and is acutely
aware (she is an M.D.) of physical factors (lesions,
drugs, diseases) that can make the brain's predictions
less than 100% accurate.

"2. The split between neurobiology and cognitive
psychology may not be all that great.....culture here is
an artifact of the constraints on the amount of
information a human mind can process and represents
a choice in limiting the amount of information that has
to be dealt with to make a decision about, for example,
what another personwill do.

Does Churchland go into this?"

Again, on my reading, she doesn't get into this in these
terms. Her particular animus is directed against the
now familiar analogy from computing in which the
cognitive "software" is separated from the neurological
"hardware," leading to the notion that the former can
be studied in isolation from the latter. This makes a lot
of sense in computer science, where the same "virtual
machine" can run on many different types of
hardware that are wired differently. I don't think that
she'd have any trouble with what you are saying. But,
whoops...I've got to run.

More later,

John McCreery