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When brains study brains

Surrealist comedian Emo Philips once said “ I used to think the brain was the smartest organ in the body, until I realised who was telling me that!

Neuroscience is big nowadays.  And whilst I too am fascinated by the discoveries that have been made, I can’t help but see a major flaw that means I hold any conclusions drawn rather lightly.  Neuroscience is the practice of human brains studying human brains.  Using machines imagined and constructed by human brains.  With data interpreted and presented by human brains to other human brains.  And of course, the audience of human brains find the conclusions highly attractive as they appear to provide a conclusive way for the human brain to fully know itself.  This all feels rather biased to me.  Interesting yes.  But surely it is impossible for the collective human brain to truly observe itself from outside of itself. (By “brain” I am referring to all of the neural networks in our bodies, not just the grey squishy thing in our head.)

If this incredible technology had been a gift from an alien race or even a different species from earth then I’d feel a little more comfortable that the practice of neuroscience wasn’t fundamentally biased.

So, yes please neuroscientists, carry on this fascinating work which is of great interest.  And yes please organisations and institutions, use these discoveries to help make sense of the human condition. And, at the same time, let’s not use “well neuroscience says..” as a way of ending dissonant explorations of the human condition.   Let’s not use the discoveries of neuroscience as a way of suppressing the creative potency of not knowing.   And let’s remember that behind every concept is a deeply shining mystery that we cannot possibly (yet) understand.

As the esteemed scientist Emerson Pugh said “If the human brain were so simple that we could understand it, we would be so simple that we could not.

  1. Nick says:

    Totally agree. I think of it as the TED-talkification of creativity.
    Creative things happen in the same way they ever did.
    But now you can do them in an MRI scanner and scientists can watch your brain light up as you do them.
    So creativity is now ‘science-approved’.
    Which changes nothing of importance…

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