Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal Of Mindless Neuroscience - Exploring Blobology

Posted on 06 Dec 2014 23:48

Scientists cannot use brain scans to look into the brain and see what you're thinking. Brain scans and the pretty pictures associated with them, are not at all what they seem. Right now, beyond a doubt, if you see the root neuro- attached to any term at all, suspect pseudoscience bullshit. Period. This is not to say that neuroscience is bullshit, but that it is a tool of bullshit.

And so enters Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience, by Sally Satel and Scott O. Lilienfied:

You've Seen The Headlines: This is your brain on love. Or God. Or envy. Or happiness. And they're reliably accompanied by articles boasting pictures of color-drenched brains — scans capturing Buddhist monks meditating, addicts craving cocaine, and college sophomores choosing Coke over Pepsi. The media — and even some neuroscientists, it seems — love to invoke the neural foundations of human behavior to explain everything from the Berne Madoff financial fiasco to slavish devotion to our iPhones, the sexual indiscretions of politicians, conservatives' dismissal of global warming, and even an obsession with selt-tanning.

The book is an exploration of some very popular bullshit: The pseudoscience attached to the very new science of the brain called neuroscience. Neuroimaging, those colorful brain pictures, have given rise to an industry. One built on pseudoscience, of the fraudulent variety.

If you think "neurophilosophy" is a THING, you're bullshit detector has dropped a spring or two. The same goes with neurolaw, neuroeconomics, neuromarketing, and neurofinance. If that is not enough the authors also mention neuroasthetics, neurohistory, neuroliteralture, neuromusicolog, neuropolitics, and neurotheology. Of course, it has captured the imagination of fitness huxters who just love to attach that grands-sounding neuro- root to their fitness interventions or theories. Neuroscience is to some fitness pros as quantum mechanics is to Deepak Chopra.


I realized something startling while beginning to read this book. Something I didn't even notice, but, as the authors reveal, seems to be happening. Brain images have become so popular, so widespread, that they are becoming the new symbol of science, pushing aside Bohr's planetary atom. That, my friend, may say it all.

Just about everything that so many fields are hoping, and trying to convince others that neuroimaging can do, it cannot do. It is not an infallible lie detector. It cannot predict your future crimes. It cannot tell you what your customers want to buy.

There is no region in the brain that is the "religion center." There also is no love center, or hate center. Neuroscientists, for the most part, know this! This is pop-neuroscience. Science has not discovered a "success" center either.

Lest you think it is all harmless bunk, think again. It is showing up in court, after all and has raised a serious challenge to personal responsibility.

The book starts with and explanation of brain imaging and some of its history. Chapter Two discusses the "buyologist" and the rise of neuromarketing. Chapter three, addiction and the brain-disease fallacy. Brain imaging as lie detection comes next, followed by "my brain made me do it," the trials of neurolaw. After that, is a sobering look at the implications all this may have to our own moral responsibility.

Before you buy into any new "neurocraze" otherwise known as "blobology," do a bit of research. Blobology is how real honest-to-goodness neuroscientists sometimes refer to this pop-neuroscience. It is a term coined by Ned Sahin and refers to scientists or others pointing out "blobs" on the surface of the brain, and pretty much stopping with that. For the nonscience audience, there is not a better way to start learning about blobology than with Brainwashed.

Although if you have never heard of any of these concepts before, you may have a bit of trouble with some parts of the book, the book is written for a lay-audience, and easily accessible. Scott O. Lilienfield is also a the coauthor of 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology, which I mentioned here, and also highly recommend.

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