Jean-Pierre Changeux

The Physiology of Truth: Neuroscience and Human Knowledge Publication date : March 1, 2002

What enables us to acquire and store knowledge, and then to communicate that knowledge and discuss it socially? What are the elements and mechanics underlying this quest for truth? How do we create the concepts with which we perceive and understand the world? How did biological and genetic evolution produce such an amazing “thinking machine”?
Above all, how did these “natural” predispositions lead to organised scientific activity? A great deal has been written about the metaphysical, economic and political origins of science. We should now turn to the cognitive sciences and the neurosciences to help us understand how the quest for truth was transformed into that particular mode of acquiring knowledge that we call science.
“We do not know any absolute truths concerning reality; we only know what happens fortuitously, depending on the position of our bodies at a given time, and on the influences that touch us and strike us,” wrote Democritus. Does this mean we should think that “truth lies in the abyss”? The fact remains that the rational process of science, because of its freedom, critical approach and universality, is an ideal model for all quests for the truth.

Jean-Pierre Changeux teaches at the Collège de France and at the Institut Pasteur. He is a member of the French Academy of Science and the author of L’Homme neuronal, Raison et plaisir, Matière à pensée (with Alain Connes) and Ce qui nous fait penser (with Paul Ricœur).