A novel picture of the brain


This is a resin cast of blood vessels in the brain. [Photograph: Wellcome Collection. Source] It’s a refreshing change from the usual grey specimens, which resemble tightly coiled intestines. This looks like a living thing.

Ever since President George Bush I declared the 1990s the ‘decade of the brain’, the human brain has become elevated in importance to a position of preeminence. If we can unlock the secrets of the brain, we can solve whatever problems come our way. We are routinely told that the brain’s hippocampus and amygdala are the ‘seat’ of the emotions. Throw in a few telecommunications metaphors and we have the semblance of an account of how emotions ‘work’. This is what happens when we leave psychology and neuroscience in a room together. The conceit of ‘reason’ knows no bounds.

What’s missing from this picture is the rest of the body and other people. Add some other disciplines to this mix and the prevailing wisdom about emotions and the brain starts to fall apart.

Most improvements in our health aren’t the result of the ‘reason’ of medical science, they are the result of improvements in how we live together—improved sanitation, diet, housing, how we resolve conflicts, and so on. No amount of peering into the brain (like the Greeks and Romans peered into the entrails of chickens) is going to tell us how to live.

The Decade of the Brain gave us the Decade of War Without End and Neuromarketing. This neuro-knowledge is used to enable soldiers to kill without compunction and to make us want things we don’t need and to. They are closely connected.

Welcome to the post human.

Further Reading

Chris Hables Gray. ‘Posthuman Soldiers in Postmodern War’. Body and Society. 2003, Vol. 9, No. 4, pp. 215-226.

Samuel Wilson and Nick Haslam. ‘Is the Future more or less Human? Differing Views of Humanness in the Posthumanism Debate’. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour. 2009. Vol. 39, No. 2, pp. 1-20,

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