Weekend Reading: July 15, 2016

harpersjuly1

The Modern Bookshelf: Neuroscience Goes Pop

 

Science is making incredible advances in studying the human brain, with ever-more powerful research methods allowing ever-more cranial secrets to be unlocked. Books are being written on these advances by the score, many of them promising to show how new developments will help people improve their lives. It’s an easy sell, starting with Malcolm Gladwell’s breezy and semi-insightful pronouncements on the one end and narrowing down at the other end toward books like Jonah Lehrer’s (discredited) Imagine: How Creativity Works.

As Steven Poole comments in his New Statesmen piece on this new mini-trend (which he terms an “intellectual pestilence”), anything that comes with a brain scan seems to have the imprimatur of irrefutable science on it, quoting a researcher who says: “people – even neuroscience undergrads – are more likely to believe a brain scan than a bar graph.”

Not the greatest danger, perhaps, but still, one should always be on the alert when writers come bearing exciting new studies (often wildly misinterpreted) that promise a new way to live. Per Poole:

The hucksters of neuroscientism are the conspiracy theorists of the human animal, the 9/11 Truthers of the life of the mind.