05 March 2010

The empiricist temper regnant

The new (special) issue of History of the Human Sciences on «Neuroscience, Power and Culture» is out, and can be found  here. A very welcome broadside against contemporary neuro(talk)-excesses (not least, on part of the interpreters of neuroscience), and a turf-warring call for "work [which] examines what is actually happening, and has already happened" in terms of neuroscience, selves, and society. As Scott Vrecko's editorial has it, unfortunately indeed, "a great deal of philosophical and, most recently, bioethical work that has begun to examine some of the implications of developments in the neurosciences is often more speculative than concrete." Of special interest to historically-minded readers will be Joelle M. Abi-Rached and Nikolas Rose's piece on the "Birth of the Neuromolecular Gaze" which has been pre-advertised on this blog a while back already (a very different, Foucauldian gloss on developments recounted as well in Adelman's recent, more upbeat reminiscings in the Journal of the History of the Neurosciences. Both worth reading, moreover, in conjunction with chapter 4 of Nicolas Rasmussen's rather un-neuroscientific Picture Control). The general case that is being advanced here, that "the neurosciences are best understood in terms of their lineage within the ‘psy’-disciplines", too has a great deal to commend to it, though one might perhaps wonder whether not, by wedding the story of the neurosciences (the new "brain sciences", that is) too intimately with the grand story of psy-Power, one would be risking to overshoot in merely another direction, not too unlike those more speculative analysands of neuroscience.


  1. The introduction is fascinating. I'm not sure I agree with the thesis that the 'psy' side was especially important (although its a useful distinction). When one considers conditions like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and MS - three examples that consume vast resources - much of the normal science focused less on the cognitive aspects and more on the reductive questions. Impact on neuroanatomy? Chemicals? Plaques and tangles? etc. food for thought.