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Philosophy: Philosophy of Neurosciences


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Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam


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Philosophy: Philosophy of Neuroscience at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Translate neuroscientific insights into practical applications

 

How can you translate insights from neuroscience into clinical psychiatric practice and, in turn, into something that a patient can understand? What are the implications of neurotechnologies such as Deep Brain Stimulation and Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation for our understanding of self and personal identity? What sort of explanation do neuroscientists provide? When is neuroscientific evidence admissible in the court of law?

 

The Philosophy of Neuroscience specialisation of the two-year Master’s in Philosophy is unique in several ways. It’s one of the few programmes to combine neuroscience and philosophy. It’s genuinely translational: you’ll study not only the theories but also what they mean in terms of practical skills and training. And it has a special focus on psychiatry and mental illness. You’ll reflect on the philosophical foundations of neuroscience, engage with the broader implications of neuroscientific research, and become a better scientist as a result.


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Philosophy: Philosophy of Neuroscience

Contribute to a better understanding of neuroscience

 

Advances in neuroscience not only open doors to an unprecedented ability to explain, predict and control human behaviour, but also raise philosophical and ethical questions about their potential risks, benefits and broader societal consequences.

 

What are the implications of neurotechnologies such as deep brain stimulation and transcranial magnetic stimulation for our understanding of self and personal identity? When is neuroscientific evidence admissible in a court of law? How can we translate fundamental neuroscientific insights into psychiatric practice?

 

Other questions concern the scientific practice of neuroscience itself. What sort of explanation do neuroscientists provide? Is there a method or model that unifies the various neuroscientific sub-disciplines? What justifies the claim that mental disorders are caused by dysfunctional brain mechanisms? In this Master's programme, you’ll address issues like these at the interface of neuroscience, philosophy and psychiatry. You’ll learn how to communicate about these issues with non-academic parties (like patients, health practitioners and policymakers), and you’ll contribute to a better practical understanding of neuroscience and its implications.

 

This is a small-scale programme, meaning you’ll work a lot in small groups and receive plenty of attention from the teaching staff. But you’ll also benefit from working with students and teachers whose backgrounds are in different disciplines. All students following a Philosophy specialisation take the core introductory philosophy courses, which means you’ll come into contact with people specialising in bioethics or law as well.

 

Most students in the Philosophy of Neuroscience programme have a background in neuroscience, and follow a second Master’s programme at the same time – such as the Neuroscience Research Master’s at VUmc. This means you’ll come out with two Master’s degrees – it’s a tough study load but an attractive proposition for future employers or academic institutions.

 

 

 

Year 1

In your first year, you’ll take three courses relating to your other Master’s during the daytime, and four introductory philosophy courses in the evenings. Year one is hard work in terms of study load, so you’ll need to be prepared to roll your sleeves up.
As well as studying a basic history of philosophy, from ancient times to modern day, you’ll learn about normative ethics – asking yourself how human beings can co-exist when we subscribe to different ethical theories, such as virtue ethics, utilitarianism, Kantian ethics and so on. You’ll also learn about the scientific method, finding out what makes knowledge scientific knowledge, and asking whether objective knowledge is possible.

 

Year 2

In your second year, you’ll dive more deeply into neurophilosophy.
In the Philosophical Approaches course, you’ll focus on two central topics in neurophilosophy: mechanistic explanation and causal explanation. We invite neuroscientists working on current cases to discuss their projects with students – for example, a recent case involved a researcher working on a network model of multiple sclerosis.
In Neurophilosophy, Phenomenology and Subjectivity, you’ll examine the role of first-person subjective reports (e.g. by a patient) in neuroscientific research, and look for ways to incorporate subjectivity in solving scientific problems.
Neuroscientists often use metaphors to explain psychiatric conditions to patients, and in the Neurophilosophy and Psychiatry course you’ll look at how these metaphors can be improved when it comes to dealing with mental illness.
Of course, neuroscience has ethical and societal implications, which are discussed during the Neuroethics and Society course.
In the Key Concepts course, you’ll focus on a research area of your choice. Through a series of interviews and critical reflections, you’ll examine the key concepts and metaphors in that area – asking how your findings can be translated to other parties.

Finally, you’ll write your Master’s thesis on a topic of your choice, typically in the same area as your thesis for your other Master’s. It could lean more towards the theoretical or the practical, but it must have a philosophical element as well.


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Philosophy: Philosophy of Neuroscience

What are the implications of your neuroscientific research? How are these relevant to a psychiatrist? What does this mean for a patient?

 

These are all questions you’ll be able to answer using the translational skills you’ll have acquired during the programme. Not only that, but you’ll be able to reflect on and analyse the outcomes of your research, and communicate that to third parties who may have little to no knowledge of neuroscience.


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Philosophy: Philosophy of Neuroscience

I have an international degree

 

Admission is based on a strict selection procedure. The Faculty’s Admission Board will decide upon your admission after having evaluated your complete online application. To be considered for admission to the Master’s programme Philosophy of Neuroscience (PNS) you must meet the following requirements:

  • Hold an academic Bachelor’s degree in Biology, Biomedical Sciences, or Psychology with a Biological Psychology or Neuropsychology profile. If you hold a Bachelor's degree in a closely related discipline (e.g. Movement Sciences, Artificial Intelligence or Medicine), you are also eligible to apply.
  • Be eligible to a Neuroscience Master’s or a related programme in which you can obtain 30 ECTS in neuroscience courses at a Master’s level. Since PNS applies philosophy on neuroscience, 30 ECTS must be obtained in this discipline at a Master’s level. Most of our students aim at obtaining two Master’s degrees, that is to say in PNS and in Neuroscience. There are no additional criteria beyond the admission criteria for the Master’s programme Neuroscience that is followed.

 

English language requirements

You must always present official test results proving your proficiency in English. You can apply online without having the test results, but in case you haven’t taken a test yet we advise you to plan a test date as soon as possible. The qualification or test result must have been awarded no more than two years prior to the proposed date of enrolment. Below you will find the minimum English test scores for the English taught programmes at the Faculty of Humanities:

  • TOEFL score 600 paper based with a minimum of 55 in each of the subtests plus 4.0 in TWE, score 250 computer based or score 100 internet based with a minimum of 20-23 in each of the subtests).
  • IELTS score of 7.0 overall band score (with none of the separate section scores dropping below a minimum score of 6.5).
  • Cambridge English: Cambridge Proficiency Exam with score A, B, or C; or Cambridge Advanced Exam with score A, B, or C.

 

Exemptions from providing the English test scores are applicable to students, who:

  • have completed an English-taught secondary or higher education degree in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand or Australia; or
  • have earned a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in an English-taught programme accredited by NVAO in the Netherlands, or
  • have earned a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in an accredited English-taught programme in another member state of the European Union

 


I have a Dutch university level (WO) Bachelor’s degree (VU bachelor's degree, VU premaster or Bachelor's degree at another university)

 

To be considered for admission to the Master’s programme Philosophy of Neuroscience, you must meet the following requirements:

  • hold an academic Bachelor’s degree in Biology, Biomedical Sciences, or Psychology with a Biological Psychology or Neuropsychology profile. If you hold a BSc degree in a closely related discipline (e.g. Movement Sciences, Artificial Intelligence or Medicine), you are also eligible to apply.
  • be eligible to a Neuroscience Master’s or a related programme in which you can obtain 30 ECTS in neuroscience courses at a Master’s level. Since Philosophy of Neuroscience applies philosophy on neuroscience, 30 ECTS must be obtained in this discipline at a Master’s level. Most of our students aim at obtaining two Master’s degrees, that is to say in Philosophy of Neuroscience and in Neuroscience. There are no additional criteria beyond the admission criteria for the Master’s programme Neuroscience that is followed.

 

Proficient in English

All lectures and student presentations are in English, all written assignments as well. Therefore all prospective students must be proficient in English. The VU Amsterdam courses Academic English: Grammar and Academic English: Writing (or similar courses at another university) are strongly recommended in your Bachelor's programme.


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Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam


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