This new blog is coming soon. I’m trying to finish my marking for the semester, but I hope to soon be creating a site to encourage a new synthesis between sociocultural anthropology and the brain sciences.
My own experience reading and exploring in neuroscience has led me to believe that a new opportunity is available to anthropologists. New findings on topics like neural plasticity and modularization, and new research tools such as brain imaging, have opened space for novel research projects, collaborations across fields, and a renewal of psychological and neuropsychological theory in anthropology. Although some of our colleagues in anthropology fear ‘neural reductionism,’ my own impression is that brain scientists increasingly realize how experience dependent and variable brain development can be; the time is ripe for a vigorous injection of neuroanthropology into the neurosciences.
Although I am very much an anthropologist, this new field is inherently interdisciplinary, not out of intellectual fashion, but because understanding brain-shaping processes requires modeling a dynamic system that involves scales from the molecular to the macrosocial, with time frames stretching from seconds to an evolutionary scale. Tracing out the complex interactions across these scales demands both ambition and a profound humility; certainly, I am not capable of mastering all the fields that will contribute to this emerging understanding. Although I am open to being proven wrong, my own feeling is that previous attempts to integrate findings in brain sciences with cultural theory have over-reached, suggesting that the complex, baroque brain can be understood with a small set of variables. I suspect that a new anthropological engagement with the brain sciences will not throw off a grand unified theory of neural enculturation.
Instead, I suspect that neuroanthropology will produce myriad accounts of different systems, of novel configurations that the brain can produce depending on what is asked of it, of patterns of malleability that differ across a varietty of brain areas and functions. Far from a ‘neural reductionism,’ I suspect that a healthy neuroanthropology will produce a much richer, more varied account of human psychology than most current sociocultural theories.
But I will write more when I finish off this semester. I look forward to building this blog, stocking it with plenty of resources, and enlisting colleagues in many places to contribute different pieces to a new anthropology of the brain.