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Pioneering Neurophilosopher Patricia Churchland to Speak on Decisions, Responsibility & the Brain

STONY BROOK, N.Y., March 3, 2008 – Patricia Smith Churchland, B. Phil. D, a leading Professor of Philosophy and former department chair at the University of California, San Diego, will talk about choice and accountability and the role science can play in yielding the best working basis for responsibility in decision making at the 12th annual Swartz Foundation Mind/Brain Lecture at Stony Brook University. In her lecture entitled, “Decisions, Responsibility and the Brain,” Churchland will discuss free will, contrasting traditional philosophical assumptions with an emerging perspective based on neuroscience and psychology. The lecture will be given at the Staller Center for the Arts on Monday, March 10 at 4:30 pm. The presentation is free and intended for the general public.

The Swartz Foundation’s Mind/Brain Lecture brings leading researchers in neuroscience before the University community. Its purpose is to communicate the latest brain science insights and advances in understandable terms to an audience that includes non-scientists. The lecture series was established by Dr. Jerome Swartz and kicked off in 1997 when Dr. Antonio Damasio, now at USC, explained that emotional and logical processing are equally important to decision making and has continued through last year when Dr. Michael N. Shadlen, of the University of Washington, discussed the neuronal mechanisms critical to human decision-making. During the intervening years, themes ranged from the fear system of the brain to learning disability and plasticity; to how the brain circuitry is more powerful than that of any existing computer, and how the capacity for romantic love is hard-wired into our brain.

At the Mind/Brain Lecture this year, Dr. Churchland will examine the impact of scientific developments on decision making and responsibility. “Understanding how the brain works is essential to understanding the mind,” says Churchland. “Questions concerning what free choice really amounts to have long been at the center of philosophical reflection. New discoveries, especially those revealing the role of specific neurochemicals and those addressing the nature of impulse-control, lend a special and very practical urgency.”

Churchland is a 1991 MacArthur prize recipient, an adjunct professor at the Salk Institute and an associate of its Computation Neuroscience Laboratory. She is former President of the American Philosophical Association (Pacific Division) and the Society for Philosophy and Psychology. In her books Neurophilosophy, and its sequel, Brain-Wise, Studies in Neurophilosophy, Churchland examines old questions about the nature of the mind within the framework of the brain sciences.
“In pioneering the interdisciplinary subfield of neurophilosophy, Pat Churchland’s work further extends the boundaries of neuroscience research,” says Dr. Swartz. “We are delighted to have her lecture at Stony Brook this year on a topic of such broad interest. It reflects the University’s increasing focus on the fundamentally multi-leveled and rapidly growing field of neuroscience.”

The Swartz Foundation ( was established by Jerry Swartz in 1994 to explore the application of mathematical physics, computer science, and engineering principles to neurobiology, as a path to better understand the brain/mind relationship. The foundation supports post-doc research in computational neuroscience at 11 universities and scientific institutions, through centers at Harvard University, Princeton University, Yale University, Columbia University, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and UC San Diego, and in partnership with the Sloan Foundation at their original five Centers for Theoretical Neurobiology at Salk Institute, Cal Tech, UC San Francisco, NYU/Courant and Brandeis University.

Stony Brook University is one of the leading public research and institutions in the world. One of only 10 universities awarded a National Science Foundation recognition award for integrating research and education, Stony Brook is also one of only 16 Leadership Institutions selected by the Association of American Colleges and Universities. The University co-manages Brookhaven National Laboratory, joining Princeton, Cornell, the University of Chicago, Stanford, and the University of California-Berkeley as the only institutions involved in a research collaboration with a national laboratory. Additional information about the University can be found at

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