Philosophy’s Other

Philosophy’s Other is a blog that provides abstracts, excerpts and other materials from a wide range of material online. Always something interesting every weekday.

Just today they link to “Darwin to the Rescue,” on the emerging trend to use evolutionary theory in literary criticism.

On Friday they had “Against Theoretical Archaeology,” debating the role of science in archaeology.

They also gave us “Negotiating Diversity” on how reason can still play a role in a multi-cultural society.

And more like that almost every day.

The Three Aspects of Critical Neuroscience

During the Critical Neurosciences Workshop in Montreal, one of the main questions we addressed was, What exactly do we mean by critical neuroscience? What is this field going to be?

Various analyses were presented: Is it the five varieties of the cultural brain? How neuroscientists and psychiatrists play to the popular press and get played by Big Pharma? Pointing out how the media can get neuroscience so wrong while reinforcing stereotypes? A round-up of the growing pains and inevitable limitations of science, and its emerging connections to the business world?

But in taking a larger look at the conference, I see a set of admirable characteristics in the young scholars there. Interdisciplinary. Not ready to accept the status quo of either just-do-lab-research or criticism-deconstruction-interpretation. Ready to take risks to work towards something that offers more possibilities than doing “good science” accompanied by the inevitable stereotypes and business applications.

And these scholars are working in three broad areas, which if developed together, will strengthen and enrich each other.

The first area is the obvious one, the emphasis on critical. Drawing on the Frankfurt school and its analysis of science as a core part of modernization and on Foucault and how ideologies and power shape the practice of science, a major theme of the overall conference was to examine how political economy and societal ideals shapes both neuroscience and its impact on society. Neuroscience can reinforce stereotypes, offer tools to companies who seek only profit, and rarely question its own assumptions as it proudly proclaims some aspect of human nature confirmed by its science.

It is not a lily white science, protected from the world by the boundaries of lab, producing knowledge unsullied by outside interests. The images of brain, the proclamations of hard-wired differences, its use in law and in advertising—these are things that fall squarely in the public domain.

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