Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience (Paperback)

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This is a necessary book for anyone with a modicum of interest in the claims of neuroscience. The authors gently make the case that caution and skepticism are mandatory: neuroscience is still in its infancy and most of the promises its proponents have made have not come to pass. They undermine the certainty of the claims of many neuroscientists by detailing the limitations of their techniques and instruments, e.g., EEG and fMRI. Their most obvious yet most striking proof is that a brightly colored brain scan is not a picture or snapshot of any brain. Satel and Lilienfeld go on to apply their skeptical outlook to many areas where brain science has been making inroads, including marketing, the treatment of addiction, lie-detecting, moral responsibility and, most disturbingly, the courtroom. The book doesn't just decry brain science using technical arguments. It also employs ideas from philosophers and legal scholars to show how we can't reduce the whole human being to one organ. They emphasize the importance of the fact that each mind lives in the context of many other minds and that nature and nurture are intertwined. Satel, a psychiatrist, and Lilienfeld, a psychologist, are both very hopeful about the future of neuroscience--they just aren't keen on its current grandiosity.

— Andy


What can't neuroscience tell us about ourselves? Since fMRI--functional magnetic resonance imaging--was introduced in the early 1990s, brain scans have been used to help politicians understand and manipulate voters, determine guilt in court cases, and make sense of everything from musical aptitude to romantic love. But although brain scans and other neurotechnologies have provided groundbreaking insights into the workings of the human brain, the increasingly fashionable idea that they are the most important means of answering the enduring mysteries of psychology is misguided--and potentially dangerous.

In Brainwashed, psychiatrist and AEI scholar Sally Satel and psychologist Scott O. Lilienfeld reveal how many of the real-world applications of human neuroscience gloss over its limitations and intricacies, at times obscuring--rather than clarifying--the myriad factors that shape our behavior and identities. Brain scans, Satel and Lilienfeld show, are useful but often ambiguous representations of a highly complex system. Each region of the brain participates in a host of experiences and interacts with other regions, so seeing one area light up on an fMRI in response to a stimulus doesn't automatically indicate a particular sensation or capture the higher cognitive functions that come from those interactions. The narrow focus on the brain's physical processes also assumes that our subjective experiences can be explained away by biology alone. As Satel and Lilienfeld explain, this "neurocentric" view of the mind risks undermining our most deeply held ideas about selfhood, free will, and personal responsibility, putting us at risk of making harmful mistakes, whether in the courtroom, interrogation room, or addiction treatment clinic.

A provocative account of our obsession with neuroscience, Brainwashed brilliantly illuminates what contemporary neuroscience and brain imaging can and cannot tell us about ourselves, providing a much-needed reminder about the many factors that make us who we are.

About the Author

Sally Satel is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, a lecturer at Yale University School of Medicine, and a practicing psychiatrist. The author of PC, M.D. , she holds an MD from Brown University. Satel lives in Washington, DC. Scott O. Lilienfeld is a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Emory University. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
Product Details
ISBN: 9780465062911
ISBN-10: 0465062911
Publisher: Basic Books
Publication Date: May 12th, 2015
Pages: 256
Language: English