Slate’s special issue on Brains! should thrill zombies and anyone interested in ‘neuroculture’. That neologism sounds snappy, but I don’t know what it means – there are so many words with ‘neuro’ as a prefix it is all starting to blur.
Neuroethics, neurolaw, neuroeconomics, neurohistory, neurophilosophy, neurotheology, neuromarketing, neurobics … it’s only a matter of time before we see the appearance of neurohorticulture and neurowar. (Oh well, at least neurohorticulture doesn’t return any Google hits.)
In the line-up are two articles about neurotheology, three about how people might improve their brains, and one with a series of quotes by:
- Patricia Churchland
- Daniel Gilbert
- Alison Gopnik
- Joshua Greene
- Charles Gross
- Marc Hauser
- Christof Koch
- Joseph LeDoux
- Daniel Levitin
- David Linden
- Earl Miller
- Oliver Sacks
The links above point to the person’s web presence; the links below point to the Slate articles:
- “God Is in the Dendrites: Can “neurotheology” bridge the gap between religion and science?” by George Johnson.
- “Spirit Tech: How to wire your brain for religious ecstasy,” by John Horgan.
- “Train Your Brain: The new mania for neuroplasticity,” by Meghan O’Rourke.
- “Ginkgo Biloba? Forget About It.: A history of the top-selling brain enhancer,” by Brendan I. Koerner.
- “Brain Lessons: Steven Pinker, Oliver Sacks, and others on how learning about their brains changed the way they live.
- “Brain-Gym Showdown: Can a Slate reporter hold his own at the local neurobics club?” by Max Linsky.
- “Best of the Brain: The five biggest neuroscience developments of the year,” by William Saletan.
That last one should provoke a lot of discussion among neurogeeks. Here’s a precis of Saletan’s top 5 (read the article for his take on the research):
- The arrival of mind reading.
- The neural alteration of morality.
- The medicalization of sexual orientation.
- The discovery of vegetative consciousness.
- The progress of artificial intelligence.
Number 2 is the one I find most interesting. Unfortunately, Saletan’s take on this is a tad alarmist:
… if brain design determines what’s moral, you can change morality by changing the brain—and once technology manipulates ethics, ethics can no longer judge technology.
For my critique of this approach, see How not to think about neuroethics.