Philosophy of mind is a branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of the mind and its relation to the body and the external world.

The mind–body problem is a paradigmatic issue in philosophy of mind, although a number of other issues are addressed, such as the hard problem of consciousness and the nature of particular mental states. Aspects of the mind that are studied include mental events, mental functions, mental properties, consciousness and its neural correlates, the ontology of the mind, the nature of cognition and of thought, and the relationship of the mind to the body.

(source: Philosophy of mind | Wikipedia)

Relevant topics discussed in philosophy of mind include:

Does the field of neuroscience acknowledge any of these and related discussions in philosophy of mind as legitimate issues and topics of inquiry? For instance, does neuroscience recognize the hard problem of consciousness as a genuine issue?

Additionally, does the field of neuroscience adopt any philosophical assumptions? For example, is reductive materialism assumed a priori to be the case in neuroscience research?


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Philosophy of mind and neuroscience are both very broad fields, and their overlap is extensive. This overlap can to a degree be characterized as "neurophilosophy":

... the interdisciplinary study of neuroscience and philosophy that explores the relevance of neuroscientific studies to the arguments traditionally categorized as philosophy of mind.

I think a great example of such interdisciplinary study is the neuroscience of free will:

... a part of neurophilosophy ... the analysis of how findings from [neuroscience] studies may impact the free will debate.

Beginning in the 1980s with the well-known Benjamin Libet experiments, neuroscience has had much to say about free will. The hard problem of consciousness is a more complicated example:

It has been accepted by some ... cognitive neuroscientists such as Francisco Varela, Giulio Tononi, and Christof Koch. On the other hand, its existence is denied by other ... cognitive neuroscientists such as Stanislas Dehaene, Bernard Baars, Anil Seth, and Antonio Damasio.

The typical neuroscience approach to the hard problem has been through neural correlates of consciousness (NCC):

A science of consciousness must explain the exact relationship between subjective mental states and brain states, the nature of the relationship between the conscious mind and the electro-chemical interactions in the body (mind–body problem). Progress in neuropsychology and neurophilosophy has come from focusing on the body rather than the mind.

Both neuroscientists who accept and deny the hard problem see NCC as a way forward, and this has been a very active area of research. Note that there are other scientific approaches to the hard problem outside of neuroscience, such as in AI.

Since there isn't agreement about the hard problem amongst neuroscientists, I think it's fair to say that neuroscience does not assume materialism (certainly not the reductive or "type" kind). More generally, there are several competing claims regarding what assumptions (if any) underlie scientific research, such as naturalism, causal closure, coherentism, or even none at all. The matter is not settled.


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