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Mind

How To Avoid Neurohype

Neuroskeptic iconNeuroskepticBy NeuroskepticApril 11, 2016 2:45 PM

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I've got a new article over at the Daily Dot:Why we’re living in an era of neuroscience hype. Check it out!

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Here's a few additional thoughts on the rhetorical use of neuroscience. The root cause of neurohype, as I say in the new post (and as I've argued before) is a philosophcial one:

We seem prone to a mind-brain dualism, thinking that the mind is something soft, malleable, and mysterious, whereas the brain is a hard, biological thing open to scientific probing. Therefore, we feel that if we can reframe a “mind” problem as a “brain” problem, then by doing so we’re already halfway to finding a solution.

This dualism leads us to be vulnernable to 'neuro'-rhetoric: ways of talking that make use of neuroscience terminology even when this isn't necessary. These quasi-neuroscientific statements are often nothing more than common-sense claims or truisms, but their banality is concealed by the brain language. In such cases, there's a heuristic for cutting through the neurohype: just remove the brain. For instance, take this sentence about stress and the benefits of meditation.

"Stress activates your amygdala, creates a red alert, activates your flight-or-fight symptoms, and heats up your system. Your thinking brain gets totally frozen and completely hijacked by your emotional brain."

Impressive - but what happens if we take out the word "brain", and the other neuroscientific terms like "amygdala"? Then we're left with

"Stress creates a red alert, activates your flight-or-fight symptoms, and heats up your system. Your thoughts get totally frozen and completely hijacked by your emotions."

I submit that this second sentence has just the same meaning as the first one, but unlike the first one, it's obviously banal. By "de-braining" the original sentence, we can see how empty it was.

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