Oxford emeritus research fellow presents at BYU


Studying neuroscience can explain the brain, however it cannot comprehend the mind or solve what it means to have freedom of will.

In Dr. Peter M.S. Hacker’s lecture titled, “Philosophy and Scientism: What cognitive neuroscience can, and what it cannot, explain,” he sought to explain the mind and the brain as two separate entities.

Dr. Hacker is an Emeritus Research Fellow at St. John’s College, Oxford, where he was once a fellow from 1966 to 2006.

In his lecture, Dr. Hacker explained that it is not the brain that makes up its mind. Rather, we as human’s make up our mind in any given situation.

“There is no such thing as the brain deciding something,” Hacker said. “It is the human being deciding to act on something.”

Hacker sought to explore the limits of cognitive neuroscience as we study the brain and its functioning purpose. He made the point that although it makes sense to compare the human being and the brain to a well-run machine, this comparison is far too simplified.

“We are not biological machines,” Hacker said. “What is good for a machine is preventative, it prevents deterioration, but what is good for an animal or human is an increase to its attitude and well-being. Improvements to a machine do not increase its welfare, but its performance.”

He went on to explain that as living beings, our value is not solely based on our performance. Rather, we have an ends to our own and can use our mind to make decisions that will increase our welfare.

Dr. Hacker’s presentation was a part of a lecture series presented by the Wheatley Institution.  The Wheatey Institution was established in 2007 with the aim to preserve and strengthen the core institutions of society.

Richard Williams, the current director of the Wheatley Institution, hopes that through Hacker’s lecture we will start to understand ourselves with a new and enlightened perspective.

“We hope that we can come to understand ourselves as moral agents and not just as biological organisms,” Williams said.

“Philosophy and Scientism: What cognitive neuroscience can, and what it cannot, explain,” was lecture two of the Science, Scientism, and the Public Good Lecture Series. Dr. Hacker’s lecture was well attended by students and professionals of a variety of disciplines.

Rebekah Hallerman, a senior from Santa Barbara, Calif. studying exercise and wellness, attended the lecture as she was intriqued by the topic.

“I was curious on what the boundaries of science are and how we can and can’t use science to explain different occurrences,” Hallerman said. “I like what he said about being sure to ask the right questions and to be more conscious of what we are conscious of.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email