The neuro-meme

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It seems as if the neuro-meme has arrived.

Over at Nature Reviews Neuroscience, there is an article by Giovanni Frazzetto, Research Fellow at the BIOS Centre of the London School of Economics and Suzanne Anker, Chair of the Fine Arts Department at the School of Visual Arts in New York, entitled Neuroculture.

“Neuroscience addresses questions that, if resolved, will reveal aspects of our individuality. Therefore neuroscientific knowledge is not solely constrained within laboratories, but readily captures the attention of the public at large. Ideas, concepts and images in neuroscience widely circulate in culture and are portrayed in literature, film, works of art, the mass media and commercial products, therefore shaping social values and consumer practices. The interaction between art and science offers an opportunity to make the scientific community and the public aware of the social and ethical implications of the scientific advances in neuroscience.”

In the same week, over at the literary magazine N+1 editor Marco Roth has a great article entitled The Rise of the Neuronovel.  Here is the opening gambit:

“The last dozen years or so have seen the emergence of a new strain within the Anglo-American novel. What has been variously referred to as the novel of consciousness or the psychological or confessional novel—the novel, at any rate, about the workings of a mind—has transformed itself into the neurological novel, wherein the mind becomes the brain…

“What makes so many writers try their hands and brains at the neuronovel? At the most obvious level, the trend follows a cultural (and, in psychology proper, a disciplinary) shift away from environmental and relational theories of personality back to the study of brains themselves, as the source of who we are. This cultural sea change probably began with the exhaustion of “the linguistic turn” in the humanities, in the 1980s, and with the discredit psychoanalysis suffered, around the same time, from revelations that Freud had discounted some credible claims of sexual abuse among his patients. Those philosophers of mind who had always been opposed to trendy French poststructuralism or old-fashioned Freudianism, and the mutability of personality these implied, put forth strong claims for the persistence of innate ideas and unalterable structures. And in neuroscience such changes as the mind did endure were analyzed in terms of chemistry. By the early ’90s, psychoanalysis—whether of a Lacanian and therefore linguistic variety, or a Freudian and drive-oriented kind—was generally considered bankrupt, not to mention far less effective and more expensive than the psychiatric drugs (like Prozac) that began to flow through the general population’s bloodstream. The new reductionism of mind to brain, eagerly taken up by the press—especially the New York Times in its science pages—had two main properties: it explained proximate causes of mental function in terms of neurochemistry, and ultimate causes in terms of evolution and heredity.

“Many scientists and philosophers acknowledge that they understand more about how damaged brains work—or, rather, don’t work— than about the neurochemistry of the normal brain. And yet, in its popular journalistic form, the new reductionism can or will soon describe all human behavior, from warfare to soul-making. The British physician, philosopher, and neuro-skeptic Raymond Tallis has summarized the doctrine: “A convergence of evolutionary theory, neuroscience, and other biological disciplines has led countless thinkers to claim that we are best understood as organisms whose entire panoply of behavior is directly or indirectly related to organic survival.”

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2 thoughts on “The neuro-meme

  1. Pingback: uberVU - social comments

  2. Pingback: You are not your brain scan! « Neuroethics at the Core

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