I recently read an article at The Guardian that seemed to back up a few ideas I'd read about on weblogs and heard in podcasts. In the article, titled "Our brains, and how they're not as simple as we think," Vaughan Bell describes the prevalence of neuroscience lingo in our everyday perceptions of ourselves. Bell writes,
The popular interest in the brain means that we increasingly have a "folk neuroscience" that is strongly linked to personal identity and subjective experience. Like folk psychology it is not necessarily very precise, and sometimes wildly inaccurate, but it allows us to use neuroscience in everyday language in a way that wasn't previously credible for non-specialists.
Carol Tavris calles this "pseudoneuroscience." Pseudoneuroscience acts like a means of discourse where we make reference to neuroscience to back up our perceptions of ourselves. Naturally, we do this backwards. Unlike scientific discourse, pseudoneuroscience tends to select a conclusion and seek a semiscientific means to back it up. It's practically a type of apologetics, where we see a conclusion and then selectively choose the references that will fit our preconceived conclusions.
I'm not entirely certain about which term I like best. "Folk neuroscience" might fit the concept better on a common person-to-person level.
I get really excited about neuroscientific findings, especially when they're reported from credible sources. I often can't help but apply them to my own life. But take a look at the list of examples at the end of the Guardian article. Haven't we all grabbed onto one of these little folk neuroscience myths at one time or another?
■ The "left-brain" is rational, the "right-brain" is creative
People make medical and social decisions based on these myths, decisions for themselves, their children, their friends and family. And these ideas are myths.
But how can you work a myth out of the culture? I guess you can't. That's how myths work. Sigh.
The Internet Archive
YouTube: ephemeral ideas