September 3rd, 2013
There’s a great article this morning on the New Yorker website by Adam Gopnik titled, “Mindless.” Like a good “mirror neuron” (assuming they even exist in humans which he thankfully questions), he mirrors much of what I’ll be saying (in my limited and tiny way) in our new book. He says we should be somewhat “neuro-skeptical” of all the gee whiz brain science popular books, and that “neuro-redundancy” throws a wrench in most of the great simple stories of brain science, and he even poops a bit on the old right brain-left brain oversimplification. Yay!
GOPNIK FOR PRESIDENT OF THE P.B.S.S. (POPULAR BRAIN SCIENCE SOCIETY)!
Great article. Perfectly placed — right in the center of the divide between, “We live in a culture of …” versus, “Our brain is hard-wired to …”
On the third page, in reference to yet another fundamental question in neuroscience, he says the answer to this question, like most others, “turns out to be both simply mechanical and monstrously complex.” Bingo. That’s it, in a nutshell. Ain’t no such thing as simple brain science. It’s COM-plicated.
There is so much to this article that “mirrors” the tone of our new book. He begins by addressing the same cerebral-visceral divide we focus on. He uses Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk to embody the two worlds, as well as pointing to the age old literature of such polar opposite characters. And guess what such polar opposites produce — “conflict” — the “life’s blood” of storytelling as I quote Robert McKee who says, “conflict is to storytelling as sound is to music.” So why do you think so much is written about such pairings — because they make for good STORYTELLING.
Then he takes on the right brain-left brain massive simplification that I have never felt comfortable with, saying, “There was the left-right brain split, which insisted on a far neater break within our heads (Spock bits to the left, Kirk bits to the right) than is now believed to exist.”
Regarding the overall frustrating fickleness of brain research, he says, “When you think you’ve located a function in one part of the brain, you will soon find that it has skipped town, like a bail jumper.”
And lastly, addressing the overall circularity of brain research, “Looking at our minds with our minds is like writing a book about hallucinations while on LSD.”
Perfect article. Thank you Mr. Gopnik for putting into words the proper approach to neuroscience. He makes a point to say it’s not all useless. Psychology is an important field. It’s just that our storytelling tendencies draw us towards big, broad, simple, exciting, happy, fun stories, whether true or not. Endlessly.
And THIS is why I will be giving several keynote addresses to major science organizations next year titled, “Storytelling: Now Mandatory Training for Scientists.” The time has come for every scientist to receive this training at the very start of their science career. It’s not a bunch of silliness. It is essential if science is to continue being the pursuit of natural truths that it has always sought to be.
There is an observer uncertainty factor (NOT to be confused with the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle we had drilled into us in freshman chemistry, but is now being misunderstood thanks to a certain high school chemistry teacher on the greatest TV show ever made, “Breaking Bad”!).
The bottom line is that this stuff is deep and needs to be at the forefront of the science world. It’s more than “just a communications issue.” It is science in it’s entirety.