Plato's Camera

Plato's Camera

How the Physical Brain Captures a Landscape of Abstract Universals

By Paul M. Churchland

A noted philosopher draws on the empirical results and conceptual resources of cognitive neuroscience to address questions about the nature of knowledge.





A noted philosopher draws on the empirical results and conceptual resources of cognitive neuroscience to address questions about the nature of knowledge.

In Plato's Camera, eminent philosopher Paul Churchland offers a novel account of how the brain constructs a representation—or "takes a picture"—of the universe's timeless categorical and dynamical structure. This construction process, which begins at birth, yields the enduring background conceptual framework with which we will interpret our sensory experience for the rest of our lives. But, as even Plato knew, to make singular perceptual judgments requires that we possess an antecedent framework of abstract categories to which any perceived particular can be relevantly assimilated. How that background framework is assembled in the first place is the motivating mystery, and the primary target, of Churchland's book.

Unexpectedly, this neurobiologically grounded account of human cognition also provides a systematic story of how such low-level epistemological activities are integrated within an enveloping framework of linguistic structures and regulatory mechanisms at the social level. As Churchland illustrates, this integration of cognitive mechanisms at several levels has launched the human race on an epistemological adventure denied to all other terrestrial creatures.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262016865 304 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 12 color illus., 19 b&w illus., 15 line drawings


$30.00 X ISBN: 9780262525183 304 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 12 color illus., 19 b&w illus., 15 line drawings


  • Paul Churchland continues, quite successfully, his bit to persuade the reader that the classical conception of the workings of the brain should be substituted by a construal of the brain as a dynamic neural network.... If a book's success is judged both by the scope of its material and by the amount of novelty it brings, then Churchland's book is an unqualified success.


  • Passionately argued and inspirational...Churchland's book spans several seldom-bridged topics in epistemology, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of science, and does so with wit and intelligence from its provocative neurocomputational perspective.

    Minds & Machines

  • Readers already somewhat familiar with...and intrigued by his quest to constrain computational modeling of the brain based on knowledge of its structural, kinematical, and dynamical properties will find much to relish in this rigorous work...Churchland's prose is direct, concise and clear...[an] impressive and provocative account.

    Essays in Philosophy


  • Paul Churchland delivers a measured and engaging account of the activation-vector-space framework for understanding the brain as an organ of thought, imagination, and reason. This delightful treatment takes us further, however, addressing in significant detail the impact of cultural and linguistic practice on learning and thought. Plato's Camera is a must-read for those interested in the nature and possibility of human epistemic contact with the world.

    Andy Clark

    FRSE, Professor of Logic and Metaphysics, University of Edinburgh

  • This is Paul Churchland's definitive account of how sentient creatures structure and acquire knowledge of the world. It will positively engage all those for whom developments in the cognitive sciences are crucial for epistemology. It also poses a thoroughgoing challenge to those who hold that the practice of giving linguistically formulated reasons to support beliefs is fundamental for all knowing.

    Ronald N. Giere

    Former Director, Minnesota Center for Philosophy of Science; Past President, The Philosophy of Science Association

  • In Plato's Camera, Paul Churchland advances a compelling philosophy that is both naturalistic and humane. Inspired by the structures and dynamics of neural representation and looking behind and beyond conceptions whose principal credential is their language-like forms or their entrenchment, it is wonderfully accessible, elegantly written, and brilliantly argued. Plato's Camera delivers powerful insights about nearly every major topic of metaphysics and epistemology.

    Robert McCauley

    William Rand Kenan Jr. University Professor and Director, Center for Mind, Brain, and Culture, Emory University

  • Plato's Camera is a startlingly original and deeply scientifically informed work that provides answers to the most fundamental questions of epistemology and philosophy of mind. How do action-oriented beings-in-time learn to negotiate reality? How do humans and other animals come to know the world, and what is it that we know? Paul M. Churchland is a Platonist and a pragmatist—in the lineage of Peirce, Quine, Sellars, and Rorty—and philosophy's foremost critic of the paradigm that models thought on language. We learn to negotiate reality by building n-dimensional maps that encode information about what in the world is 'timeless, changeless, and still.' Getting the universals right allows quick real-time adjustments to the particulars of experience. Hold on for the exciting and unexpected story of how the brain gets these jobs done. There are very few books in philosophy that deserve to be called 'deep.' Plato's Camera is deep.

    Owen Flanagan

    James B. Duke Professor of Philosophy at Duke University; author of The Bodhisattva's Brain