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1 March 2012, CAFE Lecture Series, Julian Kiverstein

Speaker: Julian Kiverstein
Title: How to respond to 'neuromania'?
Date: Thursday 1 March 2012
Time: 15:00-17:00
Location: Facultyroom 1.17, UvA Department of Philosophy, Oude Turfmarkt 141-147, Amsterdam


We often hear nowadays that you are your neurons, or that it is not you that acts but it is your neurons. These ideas are gaining increasing traction in popular culture through the widely read books of Victor Lamme and Dick Swaab. The humanities are not immune with fields popping up in the most unexpected of places that come attached with a 'neuro-' label. To give just a few examples in recent years we have seen the emergence of neuropsychoanalysis, neurotheology, and neuroarthistory. In the current climate where the humanities are struggling to justify their existence, this development isn't, I believe, an entirely welcome one. For implicit in this neuromania is the belief that what were once questions for researchers in the humanities such as the nature of persons, do we have free will, and sexual difference are now seen as questions we can simply hand over to the neurosciences. I won't be attempting anything as ambitious as a full-scale defence of the humanities in this short talk. I'll be asking instead how we might respond to this neuromania. Interestingly I think neuroscience itself points to the limits of such a position. In recent years there has been increasing recognition of the importance of embodiment, and of cultural practices within cognitive science generally but also increasingly within neuroscience. The moral of this work, I will argue, is that a view of persons as identical with their brains can no longer be sustained. Neuromania is for this reason self-undermining. This is of course not to say that nothing needs to be done to combat its influence.

Respondents: Maarten Coolen / Erik Rietveld.

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