Over the course of many meetings and discussions, I have been able to observe very diverse responses elicited by cognitive neuroscience, that is, the neuroscience of our mental lives. These reactions interest me because of their clear impact on our activism as researchers: How do our fellow citizens view our work?
This type of observational investigation led me to ask the question: Why the brain? Why do we care about the brain when we seek to understand our mental lives?
This is a non-intuitive question. To try to answer it, I would like to begin by examining—and then ignoring—the first two extreme responses that illustrate the paradox that cognitive neuroscience sometimes raises.
Brainlatry is thought to be the new era of neuroscience
The first can be called “brain meditation”: some discourses seem to portray brain science as the alpha and omega of self-knowledge. Almost a kind of modern secular messianism, the emergence of which would render the ancient cults obsolete, uh… Ancient discourses: psychology, psychoanalysis, sociology, anthropology, entire parts of the humanities, social sciences and even philosophy will be relegated to the rank of relics on the shelves of the museum of the history of our desires to try Knowing ourselves. Neuroscience is considered the new era of self-knowledge!
It's easy to dismiss “mental exploitation.”
First, remember that the brain in the jar doesn't do much. The functions of the brain appear only in the interactions of its components with the rest of the world: with other organs of the body, with the environment, and above all through our life experiences and our interpersonal, societal and social interactions. Cultural. In short, it is necessary to combine brain sciences with other sciences that also concern humans, to try to produce a new discourse about ourselves. My presence in this column, open to the 1,001 topics that inspire me, humbly demonstrates the necessity of this difficult and fragile diversity between disciplines.
Subsequently, fascinating but infancy knowledge about my discipline is often exploited by Brainlatry as supposed proofs of very old ideas given a new look through the metaphorical use of brain plasticity, brainwaves, or the second brain.
Rest of the ideas
The anti-humanitarians face an anti-human nightmare
In contrast to Brainlatry, I happened to meet followers vade retro no Satanbut Minds ! The latter consider themselves true anti-neurophiles, and seem to view modern brain science as a narrow, anti-humanist, reductionist nightmare. A scientific nightmare whose secret agenda aims to kill our subjective life and our sense of freedom, by seeking to objectify us, objectify us. Neuroscientists are seen here as hunters of our minds who, if we let them, will soon pin the corpses of our selves to a cork wall.
It seems to me that the “reactionary brain” is the result of a combination of fear and ignorance.
First, the fear of a great imaginary alternative, in which a new discipline on the rise (neuroscience) is being tested as a potential invader that would threaten the sense of territoriality: “get rid of the reactionary brain,” and the life of the soul is our sole responsibility. It is our wallet. This aggressiveness can be explained by the no less imaginary fear of receiving an eviction notice soon.
Neuroscience continues to call upon other disciplines
This fear is coupled with ignorance fueled by distraction and a form of intellectual laziness. Walking through the doors of neuroscience laboratories, reading the articles issued by them, and discovering their researchers and their multi-voiced live discussions, all of this allows us to dismiss this poor imagination. Neuroscience is a site of vibrant scientific inquiry, and continues to challenge other disciplines. Many contemporary philosophers and sociologists delve into the brain sciences, feeding it with their constructive critical analyses.
Having disposed of “cervical” and “retro-brain,” which are lumped together in the poverty of their conception of neuroscience, it becomes possible to examine our opening question, which remains huge and unresolved: but why on earth do we care about the brain for the sake of understanding? Our mental life?
I'll talk to you about this next Friday!
Les Passeurs de science: The brain
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