One can point to many intellectual predecessors to neuroanthropology: cognitive anthropologists who paid attention to discoveries in the brain sciences; phenomenologists who followed Merleau-Ponty’s example (not just his texts) and brought together philosophy of mind with a range of data from cultural studies and psychology to neural imaging, artificial intelligence, and robotics; psychologists (ecological, developmental, and others) like Esther Thelen and Susan Oyama who worked with dynamic systems models of human emergence…. I could go on. I wound up here through the influence of all of the above as well as cellular biologist and feminist, Anne Fausto-Sterling; mathematician and systems modeler, Peter Taylor; anthropologist Tim Ingold; my informants in Brazil; and my colleagues, especially the good anthropologists at the University of Notre Dame.
But the term, ‘neuroanthropology,’ has an older pedigree in anthropology than the one I offered in my opening description. Although I picked it up from Dominguez and Mason, the term appears in at least two separate contexts, one less relevant (although inspiring) and the other more directly applicable to this.First, the term, ‘neuroanthropology,’ has been associated with the work of Oliver Sachs, one of the more riveting science writers and humanist observers of the damaged human brain. Sachs is the neurologist responsible for such wonderful books as The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Awakenings, and An Anthropologist on Mars. In his hands, ‘neuroanthropology’ is a kind of subject’s-eye-view of neurological anomaly. Although there are many ways that Sachs inspires, one of the most relevant is that he attends, not only to the organic causes of disorders, but also to their phenomenological affects.
The other predecessor for the use of the term, ‘neuroanthropology,’ however, is Emeritus Prof. Charles Laughlin, of Carleton University. His works on the subject, and on neurophenomenology, were well ahead of his time, so much so that I have found it hard to track down too many works that make reference to them. (Here’s hoping that we change that because his work is remarkable. If you’re interested, I’ll be discussing it more, but you can get ahead of the curve by heading straight to his website.)