By Mark Simes
In the October 12, 2009, online issue of the New York Times, Op-Ed Columnist David Brooks published a brief article titled “The Young and the Neuro,” recounting his visit to the 3rd Annual Social and Affective Neuroscience Society’s conference. This article, following the trend of most New York Times articles whose subject purports to address the nexus of neuroscience and human behavior, shot to the top of the “Most Popular- E-Mailed” list and landed in my personal inbox from different senders no less than 8 times. Since the focus of my research pertains specifically to the relationship between the social environment and the human brain, receiving this once or twice from colleagues or close friends would not have been extraordinary, however, the sheer popularity of the article and a glaring omission that directly concerns the goals of Liah Greenfeld’s overall project – and my work within this science – makes Brooks’ article worthy of comment here.
It is true that the trend for combining the social and behavioral sciences with neuroscience has recently gained momentum. Brooks points out in his article that, “In 2001, an Internet search of the phrase “social cognitive neuroscience” yielded 53 hits. Now you get more than a million on Google.” It is no secret that such a sub-discipline of neuroscience has been introduced in an effort to bridge the manifest gap between the knowledge ascertained about the human brain and any explanatory relationship to human mental experience; these dual aspects of brain and mind refuse to be happily married in either sickness or health. Thus, some incorporation of the social sciences into neuroscience was inevitable.