Instead, philosophers gave us time-wasters like the "Chinese room argument" (still taken seriously by some very smart people, which I find astonishing) and the silly and overblown early anti-AI claims of Hubert Dreyfus (who actually got awards for his work).
Of course, it's going to be really hard to understand how the brain works. That's because the immense complications of the brain did not arise through intelligent design -- which would have given us nice discrete subsystems that interact in controlled and efficient ways -- but rather through the rather higgledy-piggledy bricolage of billions of years of evolution.
Nevertheless, we're making some small progress in understanding the brain and the mind and the mind-body problem and perception and memory and awareness and "understanding" and consciousness and free will, and other conundrums that have baffled philosophers for thousands of years. For example, read Crick's The Astonishing Hypothesis. The tools philosophers used -- until recently -- were simply too puny to get anything reasonable done.
When you read a philosopher on the brain or the mind, look for the warning signs. Here's one: do they treat things like "consciousness" and "understanding" as a binary property -- that something either has or doesn't have? Or do they explicitly recognize that these could lie on a continuous (or at least variable) spectrum? If the former, beware.
If reading Crick is too much work, you can also show up today, at the University of Waterloo, to hear my colleague Jeff Orchard speak on "Computing Between Your Ears".
* For philosophers who really do have something to say, look at, for example, the Churchlands.