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BrainwashedReview - Brainwashed
The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience
by Sally Satel and Scott O. Lilienfeld
Basic Books, 2013
Review by Robert Lewis Henry
Mar 11th 2014 (Volume 18, Issue 11)

In the past few decades there has been a growing enthusiasm in the field of Neuroscience.  This passionate optimism is fueled by a body of research made available through more recent technological advances in brain observation and measurements of brain functions.  However, in spite of these magnificent developments, authors Sally L. Satel and Scott O. Lilienfeld, in their book "Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience," highlight those they characterize as over-zealous neuroscientists and the misguided conclusions, and industry, it has inspired.

The book begins with an overview of theories on the brain and how brain states are related to mental states.  It admits the challenges of the 'hard-problem' in Philosophy of Mind, but boldly proclaims that consciousness and mental states cannot exist without a brain.  But, there is a tendency, Satel and Lilienfeld argue, in light of some modern neuroscientists, to identify specific regions of the brain as not only being responsible for various mental states, but of their being identical to them; a throwback to the failings of Identity Theory.  And while Satel and Lilienfeld do not advocate for any sort of dualism, they remind their readers that at certain levels there are Biological, or in this case neural, systems that present undeniable distinctions between Neurology and Psychology.  

Satel and Lilienfeld eloquently describe modern brain scans by which data are collected to identify 'hot spots,' areas of the brain involved in an oxygen depletion process calculated by certain statistical data, through the use of fMRI and PED scans as well as EEG's.  This intricate and laborious process, while clearly expanding our understanding of how the brain works, is perhaps, as Satel and Lilienfeld have found, not as effective in predicting and identifying many functions and maladies of the mental.  

Chapters on psychological conditions and the justice system suggest that this new Neuroscience, or 'junk' Neuroscience, seeks to take the blame of crime, addiction and other volitional acts away from individual responsibility and shift it to nothing more than brain chemistry.  The authors however caution their readers from ignoring the significance of brain chemistry and its role in our behavior and personalities.  But even still quite often the findings are a result of what they refer to as 'neuro redundancy;' data that reveals what one already knows through either personal experience or the psychological fields of research.  Even more, the book illustrates how the use of brain scans in marketing, referred to here as 'neuro marketing,' promises far more than can be delivered.   

In spite of a sober analysis of what they term 'neuro realism,' a naïve perspective on the data collected from Neurology akin to Naïve Realism in Epistemology, Satel and Lilienfeld certainly adopt a rather controversial view on consciousness.  Their insistence that conscious states cannot exist without a brain, and their treatment of the causal relationship between mental states and brain states, smacks of an uncritical acceptance of Biological Emergentism.  Despite these minor criticisms of this work, "Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience," by Sally L. Satel and Scott O. Lilienfeld, offers an availing expose on the recklessly radical conclusions of Naïve Neuroscience and what must be addressed to maintain a comprehensive, sensible and constrained Modern Neuroscience.


© 2014 Robert Lewis Henry


My name is Robert Lewis Henry and I am the author of apologetic and academic material. I have also enjoyed a career as a ghost writer for several publications. I received my BA in Philosophy in 2005 and attended graduate school at Vermont College.  I have also contributed to various academic research projects, collaborating on graduate level papers (theses and dissertations) on religion and religious subjects.  I am the author of "Epistemic Justification: Should it be viewed as a Metaepistemic process."


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