Category Archives: neuroscience

Tom Wolfe kicked off a mainstream understanding of brain imaging that challenged faith

The recently departed writer wrote a 1996 piece for Forbes ASAP, a magazine supplement to Forbes, entitled, “Sorry, But Your Soul Just Died.”

When I read it back then, Wolfe’s reporting on the nascent field of brain imaging seemed to have big implications, which was exactly his point: “…anyone who cares to get up early and catch a truly blinding twenty–first–century dawn will want to keep an eye on it.”

Since then, “neuroscience” has exploded within something like a popular consciousness as brain-scan findings and their possible implications are served by journalists to mainstream audiences. I guess I did just that in my last post about brain scans and beliefs. (When you’re not an expert, you just quote experts.)

So I’m grateful to Vaughan Bell for writing this February 2016 piece in the Guardian, republished this week after Wolfe’s passing: “Did Tom Wolfe’s bold predictions about human nature come true?” Bell gives a quick overview and assessment of Wolfe’s 1996 predictions. I especially liked this sentence from Bell’s second paragraph:

An interest in neuroscientists—brain geeks—must have seemed like an enthusiasm for paint salesmen to much of the mid-90s public but Wolfe saw a genuine cultural subversion emerging from the field.

To what extent has “genuine cultural subversion emerg[ed] from the field”? Read all of Bell’s essay to find out.

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Science, brain, mind & metaphysics

I’m reading a book that argues aggressively against the validity of the field of neurophilosophy. Excerpts from the introduction:

“The name ‘neurophilosophy’ itself, and the hyphenated expression ‘mind/brain’, are both part of the propaganda, intended to suggest the closest, intimate connection between neuroscience and philosophy….

“It is not physiology which drives this philosophical orthodoxy, but metaphysics, the idea that the findings of the sciences are now providing answers to the questions raised by metaphysics, providing a definitive statement as to what there really (ultimately) is….

“Opposition to the idea that science can be the fulfillment of metaphysics does not involve in any way opposition to science. If the objectives of metaphysics are spurious, then they cannot be fulfilled by science any more than they can be by metaphysics. The error which promotes the orthodoxy is, in an important respect, very simple and basic: it is to suppose that ‘what anything is’ is identical (in the very strongest sense) with ‘what it is made of’.”

– from Brain, Mind, and Human Behavior in Contemporary Cognitive Science: Critical Assessments of the Philosophy of Psychology (The Edwin Mellen Press, 2007) by Jeff Coulter of Boston University and Wes Sharrock of the University of Manchester

-Colin Foote Burch