Conclusions

Our capacity to put ourselves in relation to a world inhabited by inanimate things and by living persons whom we recognize as similar to ourselves, resides in the functional properties of an intricate network of neural cells. The perspective that I have tried to sketch in the present article suggests that today it is concretely possible to address the problems of intersubjectivity and social cognition from a neuroscientific perspective. After positing that, we are left with the need to accommodate the "personal level" description of our mental attitudes with the "subpersonal level" description of the cortico-cortical circuits that allow these attitudes to be expressed. One way to solve this problem may be to adopt a multilevel analysis/description of the explan-anda. By doing this we are released from the temptation to use the same type of analysis, the same conceptual linguistic framework, to describe levels that are different although correlated. This difference, however, is not ontological but epistemological. A spike train of a given population of neurons occurring while we are trying to understand someone's behavior is, in turn, occurring while a certain number of Na+ ions are massively entering the very same neurons' cellular bodies. We have described the situation by choosing three different and, at the same time, coherent levels of instantiation. Why are we talking about the "neural correlate'' and not about the "Na+ correlate'' of social cognition? We use a higher-level description because its complexity is more apt to capture our inherently complex experience of the world. Our complex experience of the world, nevertheless, is made out of simpler behavioral mechanisms, very much as our cortical circuits are made of neurons whose activity is in turn made out of the ions' flow. In other words, among all these different levels of description there is no ontological gap to be crossed, just a continuum of increasing organizational complexity. Neurophysiology, in this view, represents a sort of "cognitive archaeology,'' a lantern projecting its light onto the ever less obscure remnants of our long animal past.

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