Category Archives: Neuroscience

Gender and Neuroscience

By Liah Greenfeld

Readers’ comments to my recent post raised for me some questions about an important topic: gender. I don’t know how to answer these questions, but it seems interesting to ruminate—chew—on them, and I invite you to do so with me. Perhaps, you will have answers. The comment that specifically drew my attention to the issue was an angry one: The person who sent it strongly disagreed with my suggestion that the actions of many so-called “home-grown jihadists” or “Muslim extremists” in the West are very similar to those of mentally ill perpetrators of violent crime, and that, because their dedication to Islam is often of a recent date, it may not be Islam at all that motivates them, but their mental illness. The commenter called me various names and asked, in so many words, how someone with a Ph.D. can doubt that a wicked and, among other evil things, “misogynistic” religion such as Islam, which advocates the subjugation of women, is the motivation behind heinous crimes such the recent Boston Marathon bombing or the beheading of a soldier in London.

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Mind, Brain, and Mental Illness

Andrew Brown in “Depression is not a ‘brain disorder‘” in The Guardian

The mind is not just some decorative pattern read off the brain and mistaken for the real thing. Consciousness is not just the whistle on the steam train, as William James put it. Treating unhappiness as a problem in the brain is good for the profits of drug companies, but doesn’t actually make us all happier in the long run.

To say that the mind depends on the brain is easy enough – and true, so far as we know. But that doesn’t mean that they are the same thing, or that understanding the one will supply a sufficient understanding of the other. Talking about depression as a brain disease is a warning sign that someone has their ideas all wrong – and that’s not a problem with their brain.

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Social Neuroscience

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.

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The Mind’s Irreducible Structure

By Mark Simes

The human mind is one of our most compelling subjects of scientific inquiry—and perhaps our most elusive. Despite impressive biological advances, neuroscience has yet to produce a logical and empirical analysis of the mind that exhibits universal, objective explanatory power of human mental phenomena on both an individual and species level. “The Mind’s Irreducible Structure,” published in Sociological Mind in July 2012, explores the limitations of the current neuroscientific approach to the human mind and argues for a reconceptualization of the relationship between human mental phenomena and the brain. In the article, I introduce a new interpretation of neuroscientific data and argue that this framework has the capacity to causally explain the link between social, psychological and biological levels of analysis.

A PDF of the article is here