Monday, April 14, 2008

The Over Reach of Neuro-(whatumacallit)

Two quotes on the over reaching of Neuro-(whatumacallit)

That is why one would expect critics to be on the side of the poets, with their sense of this complexity, rather than siding with the terribles simplificateurs of scientism. A. S. Byatt’s neural approach to literary criticism is not only unhelpful but actually undermines the calling of a humanist intellectual, for whom literary art is an extreme expression of our distinctively human freedom, of our liberation from our organic, indeed material, state.Link

While the sudden visibility of the brain is indeed remarkable, the greater significance is perhaps more symbolic. Brain images are still far cruder than one would think after reading the sensational revelations attributed to them in the science pages of newspapers and magazines. And it must be remembered that these are secondary images of blood flow and glucose in the brain, and not of brain tissue itself. We seem to forget that it is not as if a camera were entering the brain and taking pictures of what is going on. At this point, the most that can be said is that brain imaging indirectly and very broadly measures the activity of groups of thousands of neurons when the brain is engaged in a physical or mental task. While there are some correlations between brain activity in certain regions and external, observable behavior, it is very hard to gauge what the pictures really mean. How does the flow of blood in parts of the brain correspond to feelings, moods, opinions, emotions, imagination? It remains a daunting task to create theories to “operationalize” what is going on underneath all the pretty pictures.

The state of the art right now is that we can read brains—to some very crude extent—but we can’t even begin to read minds. Wall Street Journal science writer Sharon Begley has coined the term “cognitive paparazzi” to describe those who claim they can. “What does neuroscience know about how the brain makes decisions? Basically nothing,” says Michael Gazzaniga, director of the SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind at the University of California, Santa Barbara. LINK

I'm not dissing science here just it's over simplification.


mundane4life said...

Welcome Back!!!!!

Didn't you post images of brain scans once?

Cure of Ars said...

Thanks sis, and yes I did but only I thought it was funny I think.