Being Brains: Making the Cerebral Subject

Being Brains: Making the Cerebral Subject

Being Brains: Making the Cerebral Subject

Being Brains: Making the Cerebral Subject


Being Brains offers a critical exploration of one of the most influential and pervasive contemporary beliefs: “We are our brains.” Starting in the “Decade of the Brain” of the 1990s, “neurocentrism” became widespread in most Western and many non-Western societies. Formidable advances, especially in neuroimaging, have bolstered this “neurocentrism” in the eyes of the public and political authorities, helping to justify increased funding for the brain sciences.

The human sciences have also taken the “neural turn,” and subspecialties in fields such as anthropology, aesthetics, education, history, law, sociology, and theology have grown and professionalized at record speed. At the same time, the development of dubious but successful commercial enterprises such as “neuromarketing and “neurobics” have emerged to take advantage of the heightened sensitivity to all things neuro. Skeptics have only recently begun to react to the hype, invoking warnings of neuromythology, neurotrash, neuromania, and neuromadness.

While this neurocentric view of human subjectivity is neither hegemonic nor monolithic, it embodies a powerful ideology that is at the heart of some of today’s most important philosophical, ethical, scientific, and political debates. Being Brains critically explores the internal logic of such ideology, its genealogy, and its main contemporary incarnations.


What “Is” the Cerebral Subject?

It may well be that nobody believes they literally are their brain. But when influential people proclaim it, we must take them at their word. Together with the brain in a vat, brain transplantation is one of the favorite thought experiments of philosophers of personal identity (Ferret 1993). It is usual to observe that if the brain of a were transplanted into the body of B, then a would gain a new body, rather than B a new brain. Commenting on that commonplace, Michael Gazzaniga (2005, 31), a leading neuroscientist, serenely asserted: “This simple fact makes it clear that you are your brain.” Yet what we have here is neither a fact nor anything simple; it is a profession of faith. the neurophilosopher Paul Churchland “carries in his wallet a colour picture of his wife. Nothing surprising in it,” remarks the sociologist Bruno Latour, “except it is the colour scan of his wife’s brain! Not only that,” he continues, “but Paul insists adamantly that in a few years we will all be . . .

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