Neuro Science  
CRITICAL NEUROSCIENCE: A Handbook of the Social and Cultural Contexts of Neuroscience
Edited by Suparna Choudhury and Jan Slaby

<p>Critical Neuroscience brings together multi-disciplinary scholars from around the world to explore key social, historical and philosophical studies of neuroscience, and to analyze the socio-cultural implications of recent advances in the field.</p> <p>Original, interdisciplinary approach explores the creative potential for engaging experimental neuroscience with social studies of neuroscience</p> <p>Furthers the dialogue between neuroscience and the disciplines of the social sciences and humanities</p> <p>Transcends traditional scepticism, introducing novel ideas about ‘how to be critical’ in and about science</p> <p>Features contributions from eminent scholars including Steven Rose, Joseph Dumit, Laurence Kirmayer, Shaun Gallagher, Fernando Vidal, Allan Young and Joan Chiao</p> <p>"Neurological thinking has extended itself into a great many spheres of life, from "neuroanthropology" to "neurozoology". We have urgently needed to understand this development within a broad historical and cultural context and Critical Neuroscience provides us with the necessary tools to engage with neuroscience and its social impacts in productive and intelligent ways. The book will be an extremely important resource for anyone interested in understanding how and why neuroscientific research has led us to think about social life in new ways." <br> [Emily Martin, Professor of Anthropology, New York University and author of ‘Bipolar Expeditions: Mania and Depression in American Culture’] </p>

Wiley-Blackwell, 2012

The fuzzy brain. Vagueness and mapping connectivity of the human cerebral cortex
Philipp Haueis

While the past century of neuroscientific research has brought considerable progress in defining the boundaries of the human cerebral cortex, there are cases in which the demarcation of one area from another remains fuzzy. Despite the existence of clearly demarcated areas, examples of gradual transitions between areas are known since early cytoarchitectonic studies. Since multi-modal anatomical approaches and functional connectivity studies brought renewed attention to the topic, a better understanding of the theoretical and methodological implications of fuzzy boundaries in brain science can be conceptually useful. This article provides a preliminary conceptual framework to understand this problem by applying philosophical theories of vagueness to three levels of neuroanatomical research. For the first two levels (cytoarchitectonics and fMRI studies), vagueness will be distinguished from other forms of uncertainty, such as imprecise measurement or ambiguous causal sources of activation. The article proceeds to discuss the implications of these levels for the anatomical study of connectivity between cortical areas. There, vagueness gets imported into connectivity studies since the network structure is dependent on the parcellation scheme and thresholds have to be used to delineate functional boundaries. Functional connectivity may introduce an additional form of vagueness, as it is an organizational principle of the brain. The article concludes by discussing what steps are appropriate to define areal boundaries more precisely.

Frontiers in Neuroanatomy 6:37 doi: 10.3389/fnana.2012.00037

Felix Hasler

<br>Alle machen Hirnforschung. Kaum eine Wissenschaftsdisziplin kann sich wehren, mit dem Vorsatz »Neuro-« zwangsmodernisiert und mit der Aura vermeintlicher experimenteller Beweisbarkeit veredelt zu werden. Die Kinder der Neuroinflation heißen Neurotheologie, Neuroökonomie, Neurorecht oder Neuroästhetik. Der gegenwärtige Neurohype führt zu einer Durchdringung unserer Lebenswelt mit Erklärungsmodellen aus der Hirnforschung. Bin ich mein Gehirn? Nur ein Bioautomat?</br> <br>Felix Haslers Essay ist eine Streitschrift gegen den grassierenden biologischen Reduktionismus und die überzogene Interpretation neurowissenschaftlicher Daten: ein Plädoyer für Neuroskepsis statt Neurospekulation.</br>

transcript-Verlag, 2012

The Subject at Rest: Novel Conceptualizations of self and brain form cognitive neuroscience's study of the resting state
Felicity Callard, Daniel S. Margulies

The neuroscientific field of ‘resting state’ research has been described as heralding a paradigm shift in functional neuroimaging. As this new field has been central to the development of a cognitive neuroscientific theory of inner mental life, we here map and analyse its emergence and potential implications for conceptualizations of brain, self and subjectivity within and beyond the neurosciences. The article traces how the ‘resting state’ and ‘default mode’ became visible as objects of scientific enquiry through the yoking together of what were initially separate research endeavours addressing different neurophysiological and neuropsychological questions. In the process, ‘rest’ – as signifying the cessation of movement or labour – has been transformed: the brain, inner mental life – and potentially the self – are conceptualized by researchers in this field as perpetually productive and oriented towards the future.

Forthcoming in Subjectivity, 2011

Perspektiven einer kritischen Philosophie der Neurowissenschaften
Jan Slaby

This text presents a survey of problem areas surrounding recent developments in the cognitive, social and affective neurosciences and analyzes them from a critical philosophical perspective. Issues discussed include the public circulation of brain images, the stabilizing of types of persons on the grounds of alleged “brain types”, the re-formatting of humanities disciplines under the imperatives of scientific research and funding structures, the widespread construals of “cerebral subjectivity” and the tacit naturalization of social categories and conditions in the name of neural plasticity. A brief outline of the interdisciplinary initiative of critical neuroscience is provided to suggest a perspective for further analyses of these debated issues.

Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie, Bd. 59, 2011, 375-390.

Neuropolitik und plastische Gehirne: Eine Fallstudie des adoleszenten Gehirns
Lutz Fricke, Suparna Choudhury

Adolescent brain development has become an important target for governments to act upon, in the name of healthy individuals and economic prosperity. In the Foresight Project on Mental Capital and Wellbeing (MCW), initiated by the Government Office for Science, adolescent behaviour was identified as one of the key challenges for UK policy. The report draws on ‘state of the art’ evidence from scientific experts, to recommend ways in which to ‘capitalize’ on mental faculties to improve, boost and make maximum use of the cognitive resources and mental health of individuals during the entire lifespan. Specifically, through a close analysis of the category of adolescence in cognitive neuroscience, we examine the perspective of personhood espoused by MCW. We show how the notion of ‘plasticity’, which underpins the recommendations about how to “make the most” of adolescents’ developing brains and cognitive resources, creates vital linkages between neuroscience and neosocial policy.

Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie, Bd. 59, 2011, 391-402
Neuroscience as Applied Hermeneutics - Towards a Critical Neuroscience of Political Theory
Jan Slaby, Philipp Haueis, Suparna Choudhury

We assess some of the most challenging work in the field of “neuropolitics” – most notably William E. Connolly's 2001 book that goes by this title. Connolly’s book, subtitled Thinking, Culture, Speed, is a persuasively argued, thoughtful and substantial account, but as we shall demonstrate, the appeals to neuroscience in there are not much more than strategic decoration, doing very little real work in relation to the arguments actually brought forth. Thinking, Culture, Speed, with the passionate case it makes for affect, skill, perception instead of high-level cognition, disengaged deliberation and abstraction, is no isolated case. As we shall conclude, more often than not, when we encounter the modish prefix “neuro” in order to substantiate lines of thought claiming to (allegedly) break with (allegedly) time-honored, intellectualist positions, it is difficult to make out the intellectual surplus value of such maneuvering beyond purposes of legitimation. Against this background we develop our own version of "neuropolitics" by claiming that neuroscience is itself constitutively shot-through with hermeneutic elements – arguably, it is even to a certain degree itself an interpretive discipline. While drawing on some of the ideas outlined in John Protevi’s book Political Affect, we develop a two-level critique of hermeneutic elements in neuroscience, opening up new avenues for intervention. By using neuroscientific results more strategically, political theory can gain a powerful tool to show how normative systems in different forms of society shape the cognitive and affective make-up of its members.

In F. VanDerValk (ed.), Neuroscience and Political Theory, Routledge, 2012, 50–73
Suparna Choudhury

Cultural neuroscience is set to flourish in the next few years. As the field develops, it is necessary to reflect on what is meant by 'culture' and how this can be translated for the laboratory context. This article uses the example of the adolescent brain to discuss three aspects of culture that may help us to shape and reframe questions, interpretations and applications in cultural neuroscience: cultural contingencies of categories, cultural differences in experience and cultural context of neuroscience research. The last few years have seen a sudden increase in the study of adolescence as a period of both structural and functional plasticity, with new brain-based explanations of teenage behaviour being taken up in education, policy and medicine. However, the concept of adolescence, as an object of behavioural science, took shape relatively recently, not much more than a hundred years ago and was shaped by a number of cultural and historical factors. Moreover, research in anthropology and cross-cultural psychology has shown that the experience of adolescence, as a period of the lifespan, is variable and contingent upon culture. The emerging field of cultural neuroscience has begun to tackle the question of cultural differences in social cognitive processing in adults. In this article, I explore what a cultural neuroscience can mean in the case of adolescence. I consider how to integrate perspectives from social neuroscience and anthropology to conceptualize, and to empirically study, adolescence as a culturally variable phenomenon, which, itself, has been culturally constructed.

Social Cognitive Affective Neuroscience. 2009 Dec 2. [Epub ahead of print]

Suparna Choudhury, Laurence Kirmayer

There is a long tradition that seeks to understand the impact of culture on the causes, form, treatment, and outcome of psychiatric disorders. An early, colonialist literature attributed cultural characteristics and variations in psychopathology and behavior to deficiencies in the brains of colonized peoples. Contemporary research in social and cultural neuroscience holds the promise of moving beyond these invidious comparisons to a more sophisticated understanding of cultural variations in brain function relevant to psychiatry. To achieve this, however, we need better models of the nature of psychopathology and of culture itself. Culture is not simply a set of traits or characteristics shared by people with a common geographic, historical, or ethnic background. Current anthropology understands culture as fluid, flexible systems of discourse, institutions, and practices, which individuals actively use for self-fashioning and social positioning. Globalization introduces new cultural dynamics and demands that we rethink culture in relation to a wider domain of evolving identities, knowledge, and practice. Psychopathology is not reducible to brain dysfunction in either its causes, mechanisms, or expression. In addition to neuropsychiatric disorders, the problems that people bring to psychiatrists may result from disorders in cognition, the personal and social meanings of experience, and the dynamics of interpersonal interactions or social systems and institutions. The shifting meanings of culture and psychopathology have implications for efforts to apply cultural neuroscience to psychiatry. We consider how cultural neuroscience can refine use of culture and its role in psychopathology using the example of adolescent aggression as a symptom of conduct disorder.

Progress in Brain Research. 2009, 178:263-83.

Ethics and the Neurosciences. Ethical and social consequences of neuroscientific progress
Saskia K. Nagel

Advances in the neurosciences entail serious ethical and social implications which demand careful scrutiny from an interdisciplinary perspective. This book provides readers of different backgrounds with an insight into applied ethics and into progress in the neurosciences and the broad consequences in the brave new world that rises around us. The scientific state-of-the-art is discussed with respect to its implications both for the individual and for the society at large. Contemporary methods of brain monitoring are explained, and ramifications of applications are investigated. The wide field of brain manipulation is analysed, with a focus on psychopharmacological enhancement. The discussion includes an analysis of our capacity to cope with the plethora of unprecedented possibilities, a summary of the safety issues, a look at the role of social pressures, of equality of opportunity and distributive justice, and a dissection of the concepts of normality, authenticity, and naturalness. The book highlights challenges for the individual, for politics, for the judicial system, as well as for the broader society. Reductionism is consciously avoided in this approach. The promises and perils of neuroscientific progress are embraced. The book charts a course between the overly sceptical and the overly enthusiastic, offering a comprehensive analysis of the scientific and ethical issues.

Paderborn, Germany: mentis 2010

Lukas Ebensperger, Suparna Choudhury & Jan Slaby

Architecture is one of the central nodes in which the aesthetic, the economic and scientific discourses and practices materialize and format our everyday lifeworld. In this essay we investigate the coevolution of modern architecture and urbanization with modern selfhood- the transmutations of the self in relation to the ongoing technification of our lifeworlds via architecture. The fashioning and formatting of human self-understanding is of fundamental interest for the Critical Neuroscience project. The various discourses, and their relationships to the brain and neuroscience, that fortify the reification of the modern subject with all its cultural, socio-political and philosophical ramifications are problematized and analyzed as one of the primary goals of Critical Neuroscience. Architecture (stemming from the greek compositum [archi-], „leading“ and [tekton], „craftsman“) is the paradigmatic interface between our technomorph lifeworld and our self-understanding. Aside from furnishing one of the most powerful epistemological metaphors in the cognitive sciences, architecture - as the practice of designing our lifeworld - structures the horizon of the possible lives we can live in these designed spaces; as such it provides a means by which we essentially design who and what we can, should and want to be. The aim of this essay is to critically analyze the entanglement of possibilities residing in architecture’s nature as an interface: unlocking creative potentials via crafting the social and cultural self-understanding on the one hand; and the danger of sealing the lifeworld and materializing a technomorphic idea of selfhood on the other hand.

Forthcoming chapter in Cognitive Architecture. From Bio-Politics To Noo-Politics Architecture & Mind in the Age of Communication & Information. Edited by Deborah Hauptmann and Warren Neidich, 2010
Steps towards a Critical Neuroscience
Jan Slaby

This paper introduces to the idea and agenda of recently founded interdisciplinary initiative Critical Neuroscience ( It is an approach that strives to better understand, explain, contextualize and, where called-for, critique recent developments in and around the social, affective and cognitive neurosciences with the aim to create the competencies needed to responsibly deal with new challenges and concerns in relation the new brain sciences. It addresses scholars in the humanities as well as, importantly, neuroscientific practitioners, policy makers and the public at large. What is going on in and around contemporary neuroscience that potentially affects society in significant ways? Does it indeed have such wide-ranging effects or are we collectively overestimating its impacts, at the expense of other important drivers of social and cultural change? How and via what channels is neuroscience interacting with contemporary conceptions of selfhood, identity, and well-being? Importantly, Critical Neuroscience strives to make the results of these assessments relevant to the practice of cognitive neuroscience itself. It aspires to motivate neuroscientists themselves to be involved, from the outset, in the analysis of contextual factors, historical trajectories, conceptual difficulties and potential consequences in connection to their empirical work. This paper begins to lay a philosophical foundation for the project by outlining examples of the interaction taking place between the cognitive neurosciences and the social and cultural contexts in which they are embedded, and by exposing some of the assumptions and argumentative patterns underlying the dominant approaches. Recent anthropological work will be discussed that conveys a sense of the de facto interactions taking place between neuroscientific knowledge, its practices and promissory projections and the self-understandings of common people. This can be seen as a first step towards a phenomenology of the appeal, or even the “seductive allure” that the neurosciences are exerting upon both the academic and the popular imagination.

Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 9(3), 2010, 397-416.