Neuroscience and change

Matt Grist who writes the RSA Social Brain blog put up this post before the weekend:

Neuroscience
is expanding massively. There is much fear that this will somehow
herald a new social determinism, an anti-progressive agenda where
people are marked out as winners and losers by the kind of brains they
possess. The comparison case is genetics (although obviously
neuroscience is not separate from genetics). After the genome
was mapped, all sorts of anti-progressive implications floated around
for a while – refusing life insurance to people with ‘bad’ genetic
profiles and so on.

Does neuroscience have anti-progressive implications? I’m going to argue in as far as the facts are so far in, no, not at all – quite the opposite.

Matt is pulling together a lot of research that suggests the brain is much more than just a hard-wired piece of computing equipment. New science says it has has much more plasticisty than was assumed, firstly in the negative sense – that poor environmental conditions, in the meaning of poor well-being – restrict the creation of neural pathways, but also more positively in the sense that our brains don’t appear to simply compute decisions in our own self-interest but also act on emotional stimuli. In other words cultural factors can play a part in how our brains come to a decision on how to act. The idea beloved of those who see humanity as a race of cliff-bound lemmings, who can’t stop the urge to relentlessly over-consume because this is hard-wired in us is, perhaps, looking more dubious…

Go to RSA Arts & Ecology Blog

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