Neil deGrasse Tyson guides you through a long and lively introduction to the field:
Psychiatrist Sally Satel and psychology professor Scott Lilienfeld have a new book out, Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience, which stresses that there are limits to what brain science can teach us. Neuroskeptic praises the book:
The overselling and misinterpretation of neuroscience is everywhere, because – for some reason – we’ve convinced ourselves that the human brain, which has been working away quite steadily for 50,000 years, has suddenly become more important.
Also praising Brainwashed, David Brooks happily downplays neuroscience:
The brain is not the mind. It is probably impossible to look at a map of brain activity and predict or even understand the emotions, reactions, hopes and desires of the mind. … [T]here appears to be no dispersed pattern of activation that we can look at and say, “That person is experiencing hatred.”
Gary Marcus counters Brooks:
It is reasonable to think, based on current research, that no single spot of the brain maps to hatred. But there is no principled reason to think that we will never be able to find some neural pattern, or set of patterns, that correspond to that emotion. …
[T]he idea that the mind is separate from the brain no longer makes sense. They are simply different ways of describing the same thing. To talk about the brain is to talk about physiology, neurons, receptors, and neurotransmitters; to talk about the mind is to talk about thoughts, ideas, beliefs, emotions, and desires. As an old and elegant phrase puts it, “The mind is what the brain does.”
Satel sums up:
The brain creates the mind through the actions of neurons and circuits, yes, but it cannot reveal its nuanced contents. … No matter how intricately scientists understand the brain, they won’t be able to answer why we sabotage ourselves—the question that, in some form or another, has launched a zillion therapy hours. It won’t compel us to adopt a new moral code or revamp our system of criminal justice. … [B]rain-based explanations of our longings, exploits, and foibles are sure to break our hearts.