The Peril of Folk Neuroscience

The Guardian (UK) has an essay by King's College research fellow Vaughn Bell on the effect neuroscience is having on popular discourse and imagination. From the essay,

Scientific concepts have always washed in and out of popular consciousness but like never before, the brain has become part of contemporary culture. With the recent announcement of two billion-dollar science projects, the Human Brain Project in Europe and the Brain Activity Map in the US, it would be hard to ignore the impact on public spending. Meanwhile, the Barbican has just kicked off an unprecedented month-long festival of neuroscience called Wonder, suggesting even the traditionally science-shy art world has raised an eyebrow.

But it's the sheer penetration of neuroscience into everyday life that makes it remarkable. We talk about left- and right-brain thinking, brainstorming and brain disorders. Differences between the male and female brain are the subject of regular press speculation and newspapers publish stories on brain scans that claim to explain everything from love to memory. Young people are increasingly warned that everything from video games to sexual activity could "damage their brains" while old people are encouraged to "train their brain" lest they lose its functions later in life.

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