Quotes 3-23-2015

by Miles Raymer

“Newspapers are a bad habit, the reading equivalent of junk food. What happens to me is that I seize upon an issue in the news––the issue is the moral/philosophical, political/intellectual equivalent of a cheeseburger with everything on it; but for the duration of my interest in it, all my other interests are consumed by it, and whatever appetites and capacities I may have had for detachment and reflection are suddenly subordinate to this cheeseburger in my life! I offer this as self-criticism; but what it means to be ‘political’ is that you welcome these obsessions with cheeseburgers––at great cost to the rest of your life.”

––A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving, pg. 395


“As brain science continues to permeate the culture, neuroliteracy becomes ever more important. Neuroscience is one of the most important intellectual achievements of the past half century, but it is young and still getting its bearings. To demand the wrong things of brain science, to overpromise on what it can deliver, and to apply its technology prematurely will not only tarnish its credibility, it will also risk diverting crucial and limited resources, including federal funding for research, into less profitable ventures and blind alleys.

Skilled science journalists and bloggers, as well as neuroscientists and philosophers who write for the public and neuroethicists (a hybrid sort of scholar with training in both practical philosophy and science), now see part of their jobs as protecting the integrity of neuroscience from the growing legion of brain overclaimers. Responsible translators of neuroscience encourage a healthy skepticism, cautioning judges and policy makers in particular that brain activity elicited under narrow experimental conditions cannot currently yield enough information to explain or predict human behavior in the real world, let alone inform the design of social policy.

Crucial lessons in neuroliteracy must also inculcate the importance of distinguishing the questions that neuroscience is equipped to answer from those that it is not. The job of neuroscience is to elucidate the brain mechanisms associated with mental phenomena, and when technical prowess is applied to the questions it can usefully address, the prospects for conceptual breakthroughs and clinical advances are bountiful. Asking the wrong questions of the brain, however, is at best a dead end and at worst a misappropriation of the mantle of science.”

––Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience, by Sally Satel and Scott O. Lilienfeld, pg. 151-2