In Explaining the Brain: Mechanisms and the Mosaic Unity of Neuroscience, Carl Craver does not, in fact, explain the brain. After all, anyone who currently claims to be able to completely explain the brain is either a liar or utterly misguided. Instead, Craver's stated goal is "to construct a model of explanations that reflects, rather than merely accommodates, the structure of explanation in neuroscience." (2) To that end, he is successful.
A first important note about the book: this is a book dealing with the philosophies of neuroscience. There are multiple target audiences, including other philosophers of neuroscience (and science in general), neuroscientists and, to a much, much lesser degree, the general population. Each of these audiences will read this book with a different background and will thus have a different experience. Those with the best background for this book will be those already well-acquainted with philosophy, because there is a certain esoteric jargon associated with the field that is heavily relied upon by the author. There are also some neuroscience concepts included in the discussion, but these are well-explained and would not pose nearly the hurdle that the dense philosophical language may.
To say that this is a challenging book does not mean I wouldn't recommend it, quite the opposite. For those willing to put in the work, Craver lays out a very convincing argument for his model of neuroscience. He begins by laying out a "causal-mechanical view of explanation." (21) In doing so, he first tackles three previous models of explanation and shows how they all fail to provide an adequate understanding of neuroscience, necessitating his explanatory view, which will be the foundation of his further arguments.
One of the truly admirable facets of this book is its firm rooting in scientific reality. That is, the criteria that Craver gives for determining whether a certain variable or component X is relevant in the explanation of changes in some other component Y is mirrored by generally accepted experimental procedure. In Chapter 3, his consideration of causation is largely based on the ability to study the phenomenon in consideration by changing the values of a certain variable to determine if that variable is a cause of the phenomenon, what he terms a "manipulationist account." (106)
In Chapter 4, Craver begins to address aspects of the reduction model of neuroscience. This competing viewpoint essentially holds that one seeks to understand phenomena by investigating their causes, then to understand those causes as phenomena in turn. At each step in reduction, one attempts to show that a phenomenon is expected when one puts together the laws governing the components of that phenomenon. Craver believes this account is undermined by its inability to separate hypotheses ("how-possibly" models) from conclusions ("how-actually" models) and relies upon his previous norms of explanation as a basis for developing a how-actually model.
Put in simple terms, it's easy to see that by experimenting (deploying Craver's manipulationist account) one can establish what variables affect the phenomenon and thus which variables are involved in the explanation of that phenomenon. In doing so, one may rule out hypotheses by using experimental evidence to show which variables are causative and which are not. This closes in on one or a group of how-actually models, gradually refining understanding of a given phenomenon. Craver's critique of reduction uses the history of a commonly accepted model, one of long-term potentiation (LTP), to show that in reality scientific analysis is not only directed downward towards the causes of LTP. Those promoting a reductive model "overlook evidence of upward-looking trends," (246) such as the study of whether LTP itself may be part of the causative explanation of higher-level phenomena, for example memory.
Craver also critiques the reductionist model of science by showing that it does not consider intralevel cooperation, where a level is generally regarded as a common subject of study. The reductionist account says cellular actions can be understood only by studying sub-cellular components, while Craver points out in the previous LTP history that scientists who discovered LTP "combined different techniques to investigate different aspects of a mechanism at the same level." (240) His critique of reductionist accounts once again confirms his purpose: to develop "[a] philosophy of neuroscience constructed by reference to the goals and strategies of contemporary neuroscience." (xi).
By evaluating the ways in which neuroscience typically functions and attempting to formulate a framework based on these evaluations, Craver describes what is considered "good" neuroscience. Notably, he does not intend to create an ideal, in opposition to many previous dogmas. Rather, he believes that "this descriptive project... is the first step in a normative project: to clarify the distinction between good explanations and bad." (viii)
Explaining the Brain is a big step forward in that regard: it is a pragmatic view of the philosophy of neuroscience. Though some may find the vocabulary challenging, it is a rewarding look at the current standards of the field and can give insight not only to those interested in philosophy but also those actively studying topics in neuroscience.