The Brain and the Meaning of Life by Paul ThagardThe Brain and the Meaning of Life by Paul Thagard

The Brain and the Meaning of Life

byPaul Thagard

Paperback | February 26, 2012

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Why is life worth living? What makes actions right or wrong? What is reality and how do we know it? The Brain and the Meaning of Life draws on research in philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience to answer some of the most pressing questions about life's nature and value. Paul Thagard argues that evidence requires the abandonment of many traditional ideas about the soul, free will, and immortality, and shows how brain science matters for fundamental issues about reality, morality, and the meaning of life. The ongoing Brain Revolution reveals how love, work, and play provide good reasons for living.


Defending the superiority of evidence-based reasoning over religious faith and philosophical thought experiments, Thagard argues that minds are brains and that reality is what science can discover. Brains come to know reality through a combination of perception and reasoning. Just as important, our brains evaluate aspects of reality through emotions that can produce both good and bad decisions. Our cognitive and emotional abilities allow us to understand reality, decide effectively, act morally, and pursue the vital needs of love, work, and play. Wisdom consists of knowing what matters, why it matters, and how to achieve it.



The Brain and the Meaning of Life shows how brain science helps to answer questions about the nature of mind and reality, while alleviating anxiety about the difficulty of life in a vast universe. The book integrates decades of multidisciplinary research, but its clear explanations and humor make it accessible to the general reader.

Paul Thagard is professor of philosophy and director of the cognitive science program at the University of Waterloo, Canada. His books include Hot Thought: Mechanisms and Applications of Emotional Cognition and How Scientists Explain Disease.
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Title:The Brain and the Meaning of LifeFormat:PaperbackDimensions:296 pages, 9.25 × 6 × 0.68 inPublished:February 26, 2012Publisher:Princeton University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0691154406

ISBN - 13:9780691154404

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Table of Contents

Preface xi

Acknowledgments xv





Chapter 1: We All Need Wisdom 1

Why Live? 1

Sources of Wisdom 3

Philosophical Approaches 5

The Relevance of Minds and Brains 6

Looking Ahead 8

Conclusion 12





Chapter 2: Evidence Beats Faith 13

Faith versus Evidence 13

How Faith Works 14

How Evidence Works 20

Evidence and Inference in Science 23

Medicine: Evidence or Faith? 27

Evidence, Truth, and God 32

A Priori Reasoning and Thought Experiments 35

Conclusion 40





Chapter 3: Minds Are Brains 42

The Brain Revolution 42

Evidence That Minds Are Brains 43

Evidence for Dualism? 54

Objections to Mind-Brain Identity 59

Who Are You? 63

Conclusion 64





Chapter 4: How Brains Know Reality 67

Reality and Its Discontents 67

Knowing Objects 69

Appearance and Reality 72

Concepts 76

Knowledge beyond Perception 81

Coherence in the Brain 85

Coherence and Truth 90

Conclusion 92





Chapter 5: How Brains Feel Emotions 94

Emotions Matter 94

Valuations in the Brain 95

Cognitive Appraisal versus Bodily Perception 98

Synthesis: The EMOCON Model 100

Emotional Consciousness 105

Multilevel Explanations 108

Rationality and Affective Afflictions 111

Conclusion 116





Chapter 6: How Brains Decide 119

Big Decisions 119

Inference to the Best Plan 121

Decisions in the Brain 123

Changing Goals 126

How to Make Bad Decisions 133

Living without Free Will 137

Conclusion 140





Chapter 7: Why Life Is Worth Living 142

The Meaning of Life 142

Nihilism 143

Happiness 146

Goals and Meaning 149

Love 152

Work 158

Play 161

Conclusion 165





Chapter 8: Needs and Hopes 168

Wants versus Needs 168

Vital Needs 169

How Love, Work, and Play Satisfy Needs 171

Balance, Coherence, and Change 176

Hope versus Despair 177

Conclusion 182





Chapter 9: Ethical Brains 183

Ethical Decisions 183

Conscience and Moral Intuitions 184

Mirror Neurons 188

Empathy 190

Moral Motivation 192

Ethical Theory 195

Moral Objectivity 201

Responsibility 204

Conclusion 206





Chapter 10. Making Sense of It All 209

Connections Made 209

Wisdom Gained 213

What Kind of Government Should Countries Have? 215

How Can Creative Change Be Produced? 217

What Is Mathematical Knowledge? 221

Why Is There Something and Not Nothing? 224

The Future of Wisdom 226





Notes 231

Glossary 251

References 255

Index 271


Editorial Reviews

"Thagard has published a string of distinguished books and papers on reasoning and scientific explanation, and was a pioneer in using cognitive science to study the way scientists think. The sections on reasoning bear the imprint of this work, and pack a lot of philosophy into a short span."--Dominic Murphy, Australian Review of Public Affairs