The Limits Of Neuroscience, Ctd

Jun 29 2013 @ 4:52pm

Daniel Lende searches for a middle ground on neuroscience amidst a mounting backlash against the field. He tries to streamline current controversies by citing Professor Nikolas Rose, seen above:

One tension highlighted by Rose is whether the “psy complex” (the fields from the 20th century focused on psychology and mind) will be overtaken by a “neuro complex” in the 21st century. In one sense, that’s what the big fight going on right now is about. Will the autonomous self, with self-control and rationality and an accompanying unconscious, be replaced by a reductive brain? How will one century’s core understanding give way to a new type of materialism, united around ideas of circuits, whether those are neural or technological?

Lende goes on to quote Alva Noë:

We like to think that our thoughts are inside. We reveal them to others by making them external in the form of action, words, writings, messages and the like. That’s all well and good for describing ordinary life. We can keep secrets. We can publicize our deepest yearnings. But actually, there is no inside. Or rather, use any device you like — from the scalpel to the brain scan — and you won’t find meaning, significance, value, in the head, just as you won’t find value in the coin’s material body. The very inside/outside distinction breaks down.

Lende asks, “Does this mean that, as Marshall McLuhan famously said, the medium is the message? That the circuit is the mind?”:

In my research, that conflict can boil down to whether addiction is primarily a brain problem or a societal problem. And yet all my years of work have convinced me time and again that addiction is both. And that’s the rub. If we take Noe seriously, and we break down the inside/outside distinction, then how do we still make sense of addiction? … One idea is to break the fundamental linkage of mind as defining person, this legacy of the 20th century. Addiction is not defined by the person, and thus the mind (and from there, now, thus the brain). Rather, addiction is a pattern of activity where brain and society meet, and relies on both at once. …

[F]or neuroscience, the funny thing is how much they’ve bought into the “psy complex.” Use the brain to explain the mind, and you’ve found the holy grail. But that’s last century’s holy grail. The middle ground isn’t the mind, whether explained by brain or by society. The middle ground is simply where we live our lives.

Previous Dish on the subject here, here, and here.