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November 08, 2012

1986: Neurophilosophy and 1992: The Computational Brain

Posted by: Katie Heasley

Patricia Smith Churchland reflects on Neurophilosophy: Toward a Unified Science of the Mind-Brain and The Computational Brain for day 18 of our anniversary series.

The Fairy Godparents had swooped down with their magic wands. That was how it seemed when, in 1984, Harry and Betty Stanton asked me to sign up with MIT Press for the publication of my first book. After all, I was essentially unknown and working in Canada—in Manitoba, no less. The book itself was still only an idea, and from the perspective of philosophy, that idea was nuts. The brain? Relevant to philosophy of mind? How ridiculous! Neurophilosophy? An oxymoron, with the emphasis on moron. Harry and Betty, however, thought the project was the big new thing, as they had an understanding of what was afoot in neuroscience. They never doubted me for an instant, and remarkably, MIT Press kept Neurophilosophy in print until 2010.

When Terry Sejnowski and I began to assemble ideas in 1990 for a book on computational neuroscience, MIT Press was the place to go. Regarding this project too, there were skeptics aplenty, and not a few who thought the whole idea of the brain as any kind of computer was doomed. Once more Harry and Betty Stanton and MIT Press welcomed the project with enthusiasm. MIT Press gave us much latitude in all respects, even in designing the cover of The Computational Brain. While I was finishing some figure captions in Terry’s lab in 1992, Jonas Salk called from the MacArthur offices in Chicago. He explained that they had awarded me a fellowship. So much for oxymoron. The Computational Brain is still in print. 

The first MIT Press book I owned was Word and Object, by WVO Quine, and though it was held together with rubber bands (and still is), to me, those seven little lines on its spine signified the best of the best. MIT Press and its cadre of authors and staffers became a kind of extended family for me, a warm and inspiring intellectual home that just happened to be a business as well.

 

Our 50 influential journal articles are listed here. The articles are in chronological order and will be freely available through the end of 2012.

For information about the MIT Press’ history, check out our 50th anniversary page.

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