Although we have made tremendous progress in understanding many details of the brain, there are huge gaps in our knowledge. What’s relevant to me, as somebody who’s interested in the nature of moral behavior, is how little we understand about the nature of reasoning, or if I may use a different expression, problem solving. I don’t know what reasoning is. For a long time, people seemed to think it was completely separate from emotion, but we know that can’t be true.
The nature of problem solving is something that is still very much in the pioneering stages in neuroscience. It’s a place where neuroscience and psychology can cooperate to get interesting experimental paradigms so that we can attack the question: How is it that, out of all these constraints and factors, a reasonable decision can be made? That’s a tough one. It will require us to find good experimental paradigms and new techniques.
PATRICIA S. CHURCHLAND is professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of California, San Diego, and adjunct professor at the Salk Institute. Her research has centered on the interface between neuroscience and philosophy, with a current focus on the association of morality and the social brain. She is the author of Conscience: The Origins of Moral Intuition.