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