20 December 2010

Neurobabble, etc.

I think this piece from the NYT, "A Real Science of Mind" by Tyler Burge (Dec. 19, 2010) makes some good points, including this one about "brain talk" that always bugs me when I come across it:

In recent years popular science writing has bombarded us with titillating reports of discoveries of the brain’s psychological prowess.  Such reports invade even introductory patter in biology and psychology.  We are told that the brain — or some area of it sees, decides, reasons, knows, emotes, is altruistic/egotistical, or wants to make love.  For example, a recent article reports a researcher’s “looking at love, quite literally, with the aid of an MRI machine.”  One wonders whether lovemaking is to occur between two brains, or between a brain and a human being.


Neurobabble piques interest in science, but obscures how science works.  Individuals see, know, and want to make love.  Brains don’t.  Those things are psychological — not, in any evident way, neural.  Brain activity is necessary for psychological phenomena, but its relation to them is complex.

But the comments are also worth looking over for some critiques of Burge's approach.