Paul and Patricia Churchland are researchers and advocates of eliminative materialism in neuroscience and philosophy of mind. Eliminative materialism claims that everyday concepts such as the beliefs, feelings, and desires we attribute to each other are illusions of what we should refer to as "folk psychology." They believe not only that these concepts are destined to be eliminated by a genuinely scientific understanding of human nature, but that this goal is a good or end to which research ought to be hastened.
Most of the current research and debate in neuroscience about the nature of mind, such as is cited by the Churchlands and eliminative materialists, is limited to discussion of the relation between the brain and "consciousness." This includes questions about how the idea of agency that we normally attribute to minds arises.
There is a meaningful distinction to be made between consciousness and self-consciousness. By consciousness I refer to sense-perception and the understanding that natural organisms develop about their environment. By self-consciousness I refer to the normative concept of agency and responsibility that we have acquired through communicative practices, such as asking each other for and giving normative reasons for our actions and our beliefs. The strong claim here is that we only acquire this sense of our own agency by it being recognized. After we acquire this sense its origin tends to elude us because it is disguised in our having learning to adopt the position of another toward ourselves in thought (i.e., after one has learned to recognize and take oneself to be an agent).
Thus we may infer that current research programs in neuroscience and philosophy of mind and consciousness will not be able to answer the questions about human selfhood and agency that they claim they will be able to answer, since they are looking only at natural consciousness (i.e., sense-perception and environmental understanding) but not self-consciousness and how it originates outside the natural organism in normative relations between human beings.
In light of this argument, check out this video of Patricia Churchland making her case. Glimpse the soul-less abyss of an eliminativist future in her eyes ; )
- Tom McDonald