Neuro Science  
 
Foundations and Motivations
Increasingly, many societies around the world are witnessing, or will soon be witnessing, the effects of a sustained emphasis on brain-centred approaches to theories of the person in medicine and in popular culture, more generally. The neurosciences are about to make a profound and broad-scale impact on society, or so one is certainly led to expect, from the rhetoric of neuroscientists, the media, cultural critics and neuro-ethicists, alike. Certainly, the neurosciences are increasingly amassing resources and attention, the academic and popular literature replete with the conviction that within a few years, the brain sciences will supersede social, cultural, philosophical, political, literary or other 'folk' explanations of behavioural phenomena. Besides promising novel insights into the workings of core human capacities - whether shopping behaviour or moral reasoning and consciousness - the neurosciences have brought on the horizon new technologies that are being mobilized in the name of educational improvement, illness prevention and security: an array of new pharmaceutical drugs, brain-based methods to boost intelligence, fitness and happiness as well as screening devices with potentially wide-ranging medical, civil and military uses.

This discourse has become familiar. In the meantime, these developments in neuroscience, though captivating in their promissory appeal, and arguably having the real potential to impact deeply on society, have failed to elicit adequately complex responses on the part of the scholarly community; all too often, discourse and state-of-the-art are conflated, and non-reflexive futurism goes hand-in-hand with a lack of regard for a long history of dramatic promise of impending societal transformation brought about by the sciences and technologies of the brain and mind. Rather than critically engaging with developments in the neurosciences, and their social and cultural ramifications in their diversity, such responses often result in reifying both the neuroscientfic 'threat' as well as the conception of human nature supposedly under siege.

The project of Critical Neuroscience differs significantly in its ambitions and agenda. It is, first, aspiring to seriously bridge the social and anthropological study of the neurosciences to the neuroscience laboratory by engaging neuroscientists and non-neuroscientists - philosophers, historians of science, anthropologists - in concrete collaborations focused on specific themes of cultural relevance. Examples include pathologies of individual development (mental illnesses such as depression), social pathologies (such as alienation in work and life environments, violence, ADHD, aggression, fear), ideas and popular conceptions of well-being and suggested ways of their implementation, to name just a few. What these themes have in common is a call for approaches spanning various disciplines to develop explanations on multiple levels, from the brain to bodies, dynamic relationships, communities, societies and politics. These phenomena no doubt involve the brain and neuroscientific approaches, but cannot be investigated from a neuroscience perspective alone.

In line with this approach, Critical Neuroscience aims to provide joint education opportunities for junior researchers including interdisciplinary courses, themed summer/winter schools, and collaborative workshops in order to enable and sustain joint work on a number of topics. One aim is for collaborative work to lead to creative experimental paradigms that yield multiple types of data and make room for interpretations on many levels.

The project is therefore, on the one hand, an attempt to approach behavioural phenomena with broader perspectives and more complicated experimental frameworks, and on the other hand, an attempt to take seriously the diverse implications developments in the neurosciences unquestionably will have on society, without taking for granted either the transformative power of neurosciences nor any particular conception of what it means to be human. Our conceptions of our selves, our societies and our ways of life happen, it is our belief, in spite of the mostly promissory character of the neurosciences; they happen because of many complex economic, political and other factors, few of which in fact are determined by scientific research, per se. Neuroscience itself, it is worth emphasizing, is nothing that could simply have an 'impact', but is itself a historically grown enterprise, always already enmeshed in a broader realm of the social and cultural. To remain alert to these wider factors that shape social life, individual development and not least the practices and theories of science while holding on to the potentials of neuroscience is a central aim of Critical Neuroscience.

Currently, the project is organized as a network of cooperators in Germany, Canada, the US, the UK, Brazil and Switzerland. Workshops and conferences have been held in Montreal and Los Angeles, and courses are being taught in the Cognitive Science program of the University of Osnabrück, and at Marburg University, Germany. The formation of theme-specific working groups and the organization of summer/winter schools on Critical Neuroscience is planned for the near future. New developments will be posted on this website. For more information, contact either Suparna Choudhury or Jan Slaby (see people section).