Andrew Scull Takes the Law (and the Brain) Into His Own Hands

Paul mentioned this intriguing review, Mind, Brain, Law and Culture, at the end of his post on Norman Doidge. Welcome back from the field, Paul!

Written by Andrew Scull, a sociologist at UC San Diego and an expert in the history of psychiatry, this review appeared in the journal Brain in 2007. In it, Scull took on the books Law and the Brain, edited by Semir Zeki and Oliver Goodenough, and Brain and Culture by Bruce Wexler. I’ll deal as briefly with Brain and Culture as Scull does, before getting to the meat of Scull’s critique.

Scull reviews Wexler’s book favorably, as did Greg back in February, praising it for an integrative approach: “Rather than positing a rigid separation between the biological and the social, Wexler insists that the two interact and mutually influence each other in powerful ways. It makes no sense, in his view, to regard the brain as an asocial or a presocial organ, because in important respects, its very structure and functioning is a product of the social environment.”

Like Greg, Scull likes the first two-thirds of the book, but is less sanguine about the last third, where Wexler moves away from plasticity to speaking of difference. These chapters are more speculative and vulnerable to criticism, evoking generalizations based on selective snippets of anthropological and historical evidence.

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Neuroanthropology Defined

For those who speak indonesian, this is a follow-up of Paul Mason on Neuroanthropology defined Posted by gregdowney on December 27, 2007 and  Paul Mason: Slides on Neuroanthropology Posted by gregdowney on January 12, 2008.

The article was published in Gema Seni and I have scanned a copy which can now be accessed here, (I apologise for the poor scanning, most of page 117 is indeed missing):

Mason, P.H. (2007) Alam, Otak dan Kebudayaan: Perkembangan Baru Tentang Pengetahuan Musik dan Tari. gema-seni: Jurnal Komunikasi, Informasi, dan Dokumentasi Seni, Vol 2, no. 4, pp. 108-119.


While passing through Jakarta in early May, I picked up a copy of the Sunday Jakarta Post. I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoy reading The Jakarta Post. It is full of cynical, pessimistic and diplomatic stabs at every shortcoming of the country where it is printed. The front page of the May 11th issue (2008 ) had a particularly funny, yet in reality frustrating, article about pedestrian strips (or the lack thereof) in Jakarta. The article is called, Unnatural Selection in the Concrete Jungle. It’s a very witty piece! The author, Rhiannon Zepol, even manages to take the mickey out of her host-country’s love of acronyms by referring to the ABDPPCDYB (Anak Buah Dari Pohon Pak Charles Darwin Yang Besar = Operation Charles Darwin Citizen Selection Program). 

Zepol’s piece appealed to me because it speaks of some daily frustrations that seem to have been solved in so many other cities of the world. The article alludes to a political ignorance that is reflected in Indonesian lifestyle. The best example I could give is a TV commercial created by the Health Department for people to put a cup of Dettol (a brand of anti-bacterial disinfectant) into their Mandi. A Mandi is basically a large tub/upright-bath from where people scoop water for washing and flushing the toilet (aka hole-in-the-ground). One would think that putting dettol in this water is a good idea. However, the shower-using politicians and council workers have probably neglected the fact that most Indonesians use Mandi water for cooking as well. Dettol tasting rice is not exactly what I would like on my menu.

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On-line coaching paper available: shameless self-promo

Apologies in advance, but ignore this post if you’re not interested in anthropology. I just had a paper come out in an online conference proceedings, and I don’t think it’s going to get too much notice unless I do a bit of self promotion. So, at the risk of being accused of narcism (or worse), I’ll just post a brief notice and link to the paper:

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