The Brain: A Mindless Obsession
Despite stunning advances in neuroscience and bold claims of revelations from new brain-scan technologies, our knowledge about the brain’s role in human behavior is still primitive.
A team of American researchers attracted national attention last year when they announced results of a study that, they said, reveal key factors that will influence how swing voters cast their ballots in the upcoming presidential election. The researchers didn’t gain these miraculous insights by polling their subjects. They scanned their brains. Theirs was just the latest in a lengthening skein of studies that use new brain-scan technology to plumb the mysteries of the American political mind. But politics is just the beginning. It’s hard to pick up a newspaper without reading some newly minted neuroscientific explanation for complex human phenomena, from schizophrenia to substance abuse tohomosexuality.
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Charles Barber worked with the homeless mentally ill in New York City for 10 years. He is a lecturer in psychiatry at Yale University and the author of Songs From the Black Chair: A Memoir of Mental Interiors (2005). This essay is adapted from his new book, Comfortably Numb: How Psychiatry Is Medicating a Nation, which Pantheon will publish in February.more from this author >>