An expose on the rash of popular neuroscience books that have appeared over the past few years. What should we think of them? Science? or Neuro-flapdoodle?
An intellectual pestilence is upon us. Shop shelves groan with books purporting to explain, through snazzy brain-imaging studies, not only how thoughts and emotions function, but how politics and religion work, and what the correct answers are to age-old philosophical controversies. The dazzling real achievements of brain research are routinely pressed into service for questions they were never designed to answer. This is the plague of neuroscientism – aka neurobabble, neurobollocks, or neurotrash – and it’s everywhere.
In my book-strewn lodgings, one literally trips over volumes promising that “the deepest mysteries of what makes us who we are are gradually being unravelled” by neuroscience and cognitive psychology.
Happily, a new branch of the neuroscienceexplains everything genre may be created at any time by the simple expedient of adding the prefix “neuro” to whatever you are talking about. Thus, “neuroeconomics” is the latest in a long line of rhetorical attempts to sell the dismal science as a hard one; “molecular gastronomy” has now been trumped in the scientised gluttony stakes by “neurogastronomy”; students of Republican and Democratic brains are doing “neuropolitics”; literature academics practise “neurocriticism”. There is “neurotheology”, “neuromagic” (according to Sleights of Mind, an amusing book about how conjurors exploit perceptual bias) and even “neuromarketing”. Hoping it’s not too late to jump on the bandwagon, I have decided to announce that I, too, am skilled in the newly minted fields of neuroprocrastination and neuroflâneurship.
Source: New Statesman
This is a fine piece. Go read it all!
I admit I have some of these books. Not sure what to think about them. How much is good science? How much is DRESSED UP AS good science? I can’t tell. I’m doubtful that brain research has the answer to everything. If I know one thing, it’s that why things happen in society and why people act they way they do is WAY more complicated than data sets can reveal. Humans are fickle, silly and irrational. Can brain research lend insight? Sure! But do these books, like self-help books, oversimplify and promise too much?
To make my critique more sciencey, I’m going to add a picture of a brain. Cause that TOTALLY WORKS!
This story is complemented perfectly by Carol Tavris‘ talk from The Amazing Meeting this past July who noted many of these points as well. Carol is one of my favorite authors and speakers and one of THE finest role models for critically thinking women. Her book with Elliot Aronson, Mistakes were Made But Not by Me is one of my top picks to have on your shelf. Here is her talk from TAM. Enjoy.