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Preview: The Neuro Times

The Neuro Times

The Neuro Times: A blog about neurology and neuroscience

Updated: 2018-04-22T06:17:32.777-04:00


Abstract: My Talk at the World Congress of Neurology, Santiago, Chile (4 Nov. 2015, 16:30-18:00 Hall C)


Making Neurology Global: The First international Neurological COngress in Berne, Switzerland

The First International Neurological Congress was held in Berne Switzerland in 1931. New York neurologist Bernard Sachs (1858-1944), the President of the Congress, welcomed an audience of 890 participants from forty nations and six continents, by declaring: "The purpose of this congress is to establish personal contacts and to unite the neurologists of the entire world."

The Congress unquestionably fulfilled that aim. After almost sixteen years of unwavering animosities, neurologists representing all of the belligerent nations of the 1914-1918 conflict gathered together in neutral territory. There they exchanged pleasantries at a steady stream of smokers, high teas, late-night dinner parties, dances, and a host of field trips to nearby cultural attractions, all the while discussing the science and medicine of the nervous system.

What was the fundamental purpose of these cultural and intellectual exchanges in Switzerland? What was their legacy? Despite the vast expansion of knowledge about the nervous system and its diseases that occurred between 1880 and 1919, the establishment of institutional settings for neurology in the interwar period had been a haphazard affair. The organizers of the Congress intended it as a global corrective to that situation. In other words, the Congress promoted the specialization of an internationally recognized, autonomous field of medicine. Yet this agenda posed many challenges. Not least, could obvious ideological differences between nations be overlooked temporarily and could the tensions readily remembered from past violence truly be forgotten?

Pavlov: A Russian Life in Science


My review in "Science" can be found here (paywall). From the summary:
The life of Ivan Pavlov was characterized by both sluchainost' (chance and randomness) and pravil'nost' (regularity and lawfulness), two words which appear frequently in Pavlov's own writing. In a new biography, Daniel P. Todes draws on multilingual archival and literary sources to capture the subtleties of the famous physiologist's life and work. The result, according to reviewer Stephen T. Casper, is an exemplary work of scholarship that transforms biography into history.

The Usual Suspects: A Satire


‘Gentlemen.’ The thin impeccably-dressed well-groomed man grimaced slightly in recognition of the room’s demography. ‘Madam.’ He inclined his head. ‘My employer Mr. Brickmann, has assembled you together for a purpose and one purpose only. It is not optional. As you are no doubt aware he is the brilliant inventor of an idea. He now wishes that his idea should become real. And you are his chosen actualizers. Mr Brickmann has picked you and only you because you define Mr Brickmann’s own self-regard for his idea. Only you Gentlemen.’ Again there was that slight hesitation. ‘I leave you to it. But I wish to state for the record that you should regard Mr Brickmann’s high self-regard as you would your own. It is not a trifle. It must be.’ There was now no hesitation. ‘It is only up to you to make it so.’ With that, he turned with graceful imperiousness and vanished leaving behind only the thinly veiled threat that hung over the confounded silence that now filled the lavish boardroom.‘I was worried about this.’ said Dr. Conemahn breaking the silence. He was the eldest of the group, an economist, and the only Nobel Prize winner in the room.‘The technical difficulties are rather…difficult,’ cloud-maverick Marcus Beanoff sighed.‘What are the technical difficulties?’ The speaker was Glad Malcon. Everyone was quiet again. Malcon was among the most formidable public intellectuals of their generation, and he had for years explained Brickmann’s idea to the masses. Everyone in the room had read his books, watched his TED lectures, shook his hand in awe, and bragged about their fifteen minutes with him at Silicon Valley fundraisers. Even among the august group, his presence prompted excruciating self-awareness. No one wanted too look to human.Glancing first at Conemahn and then at Beanoff, Michel Zagzitti stepped into the now tepid water. ‘Well we don’t know how to do it for one. The neuroscience isn’t there yet.’ Zagzitti was grateful for Conemahn’s presence. Being second oldest meant almost certainly that the others would be inclined to see him as a bit reactionary. Conemahn’s Nobel Prize brought them both cover through gravitas.‘Look. I’ve read all of your books. I’ve read all of your articles. I’ve read all of your interviews. I’ve watched every podcast. I’ve had experts pour over your ideas with me so that I understood them and could write about them. The expertise is there. We do know how to do this. It is just a matter of…’.Here Mericuria Avopop paused. She recognized that everyone in the room knew what must follow her trailing ellipse.It was the moral question, that bug-a-boo of Judeo-Christian guilt; the inheritance of the generations; that oldest of ideas and traditions.‘Well we should do it. We all know that’s all bullshit.’ Dick Dorwkins piped in.‘I guess I agree with Dick. Not for the same reasons. But such a genesis requires new stories and new traditions…’‘And human lives aren’t worth what they once were,’ Lamech Ham the III interrupted Gerald Temple with that cavalier confidence that had so characterized his youthful historical studies of humanity and the future.Temple nodded. His beard gave further gravity to the conversation. And both he and Ham III gave Avopop a meaningful look of gratitude. Things might go smoothly from here.Estaban Mauve had remained silent throughout all that was said. But as Temple and Ham spoke he had had begun to shake his head in enthusiastic agreement. His hair and plastic surgery made him look like a wunderkind Einstein, a genius of the highest order with great looks in a scholarly academic Harvard sort of way. ‘Dorwkins is right. He’s always right of course.’ Dorwkins acknowledged the compliment by tilting his head towards a reverent posture. ‘I’ve shown several times,’ Mauve continued, ‘that person-to-person violence is on the wane. We would not make a dent in those trends.’Avopop rose. Looking out towards the ocean and beyond the deser[...]

Book Review: Steven Pinker: The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century (Viking Adult: 2014)


The Mighty Pinker Has Struck OutBy Charles Euchner Charles Euchner is a case writer and editor at Yale School of Management. Author or editor of books on civil rights (Nobody Turn Me Around), writing (The Big Book of Writing), public policy (Urban Policy Reconsidered, Playing the Field, Governing Greater Boston), baseball (The Last Nine Innings), and more, Euchner has contributed to The Boston Globe, The American, CommonWealth, Newsweek, Education Week, The Big Roundtable, The New York Times, and many other publications. Previously he served as executive director of the Rappaport Institute at Harvard University. He blogs at, right now, someone is bemoaning the decline of writing. Grammar scolds lay down the law on the “proper” ways to speak and write. Business executives complain about the poor quality of emails. Government bureaucrats wade through piles of regulatory documents, sending some back for rewrites. And of course teachers grouse that texting and social media make their jobs impossible.Statistics support the complaints. By one account, American businesses suffer $204 billion in lost productivity every year because of poor writing. Businesses and colleges must run remedial courses on writing. But writing programs—in schools and companies—usually make little difference. Less than half of the 2,300 students tracked in a four-year study said their writing had improved in college.To the rescue comes Steven Pinker, the rock-star language maven from Harvard. Pinker is celebrated for his friendly and lucid style. The subtext of his writing might be: Here, let me translate what those eggheads are saying—and how you should think about these academic debates. So he would seem to be the ideal person to offer a thinking person’s guide to writing in the 21st century. And that is just what he sets out to do in The Sense of Style, which he sees as a successor to Strunk and White’s classic but outdated Elements of Style.A definitive writing manual seems the next logical step for Pinker’s work. After writing two scholarly tomes early in his career, he has become a popularizer of intellectual ideas. In The Language Instinct, The Blank Slate, and How the Mind Works, Pinker offers erudite tours of the mysteries of thinking and acting. In The Better Angels of Our Nature, he argues that the world is becoming a safer, less violent place. In the ongoing debate about evolution, Pinker argues that all kinds of abilities—including family feelings, sharing, aggression, ethnocentrism, morality, spatial orientation, logic, probability, and even understandings of physics, biology, and psychology—are built into our DNA.  Surely, all of these innate abilities could be used to help people write well. Writing is, above all, an act of sharing and storytelling, those distinctively human activities. Alas, Pinker fails. His guide is a mess. The best part of the book explores “classic style,” in which the writer “orients the reader’s gaze,” pointing out interesting or important things in a conversational style. But Pinker gets lost in a maze of academic exercises and random prescriptions. For 62 pages Pinker expounds on abstract models for analyzing writing. For 117 pages, he renders judgment on a random assortment of quarrels on word usage. Very seldom does Pinker actually explain how to build a piece of good writing, sentence by sentence and paragraph by paragraph.The manual we needA truly useful manual would begin with the two essential elements of writing—the sentence and the paragraph. Hemingway once noted that “one true sentence” was the foundation of all good writing. The good news is that anyone, with the right basic skills, can write that one true sentence—and then a second, a third, and so on.  So where is Pinker’s advice on composing a sentence? Nowhere and everywhere. Pinker jumps from topic to topic—from the minutiae of grammar to disagreements over word meanings—but [...]

Adolf Meyer writes to Henry Head about Aphasia


My dear Dr Head: Dr. Noble from Sydney, who has visited us recently, told me that you are preparing a work on Aphasia. It occurred to me that inasmuch as my attitude toward the Aphasia problem coincides to quite an extent with your own but also has taken into consideration the "best" way of keeping relations with brain physiology, you might be interested in my Harvey Lecture, which, I suppose, is not very readily accessible. I also enclose a reprint of my course in the teaching of brain anatomy, which is an upshot of suggestions received through my early work in comparative anatomy and a few but much appreciated contacts with Hughlings Jackson. Believe me, very truly yours, Meyer.

25 March 1922, Letter from Adolf Meyer to Henry Head, Meyer Papers I/1633 Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives.(image)

Critical Response: “Northern Light and Northern Times: Swedish Leadership in the Foundation of Biological Rhythms Research” by Jole Shackelford Transactions of the American Philosophical Society vol. 103 part 2 (2013), pp. v-96”


In his aptly titled Northern Light and Northern Times: Swedish Leadership in the Foundation of Biological Rhythms Research (link), Jole Shackelford tackles the complicated and fascinating history of chronobiology. Hitherto a topic only explored in any serious way in a landmark essay by Alberto Cambrosio and Peter Keating, Shackelford’s long essay explores the social, institutional, and intellectual history of biological rhythms research chiefly in the period from 1930 to 1970 and places that history in both a longer history of ideas and a considered view of the torn geopolitical circumstances that dominated the globe in the modern and postmodern epochs. Shackelford in particular pays much attention to the first meeting of the ‘chronobiologists’, which took place at Ronneby Brunn in 1937. From there, his essay explores Swedish neutrality in the turbulent years of the 1940s and 1950s and closes with a discussion about the emergence of a more international society after 1949. That Shackelford’s emphasis is on the Swedish history of science in the modern period in particular adds a further valuable dimension in a historiography too-often dominated by a focus on Germany, France, Britain, Canada, and the United States. The essay is a pleasure to read and also a highly informative and illuminating exposition which could start many a budding historian of biology and neuroscience onto an interesting investigation of metaphor, space and time, and biology. Worthy of the hour it will take you to read this informative history!    

Political Descent and the Politics of Evolutions


Two quotes that pair nicely with my review of Piers J. Hale's excellent book.
To furnish the most unremitted excitements of this kind, and to urge man to further the gracious designs of Providence, by the full cultivation of the earth, it has been ordained that population should increase much faster than food. This general law (as it has appeared in the former parts of this essay) undoubtedly produces much partial evil, but a little reflection may, perhaps, satisfy us, that it produces a great overbalance of good. Strong excitements seem necessary to create exertion, and to direct this exertion, and form the reasoning faculty, it seems absolutely necessary, that the Supreme Being should act always according to general laws. The constancy of the laws of nature, or the certainty, with which we may expect the same effect, from the same causes, is the foundation of the faculty of reason.
Malthus, Population: The First Essay, 1798 (reprint 1996), pp. 126-7
I might show, for instance, that while man derives great advantages from his highly developed intellectual faculties, the human species in general suffers from them at the same time considerable disadvantages; since these faculties confer the means for doing harm as easily as good, and their general effect is always to the disadvantage of those individuals who make least use of their intelligence, and this is necessarily the case of the greater number. It would appear therefore that the main evil in this respect resides in the extreme inequality of individuals, an inequality that cannot be entirely destroyed. Nevertheless, it may be inferred with still greater certainty that the thing most important for the improvement and happiness of man is to diminish as far as possible this enormous inequality, since it is the origin of most of the evils to which he is exposed.
Lamarck, Zoological Philosophy 1809 (trans. 1959), p. 361

Book Review: Piers J. Hale, Political Descent: Malthus, Mutualism, and the Politics of Evolution in Victorian England (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2014)


 “Malthus,” philosopher of biology Robert J Richards has observed, “brought Darwin to recognize the tremendous fecundity of organisms and their consequent struggle to acquire the necessities of survival” (Richards 1987, 100) but Darwin also, “misread Lamarck from the beginning, for clearly neither the Histoire naturelle nor the Philosophical zoologique invoked will to explain the inheritance of acquired characteristics”(Richards 1987, 93). Piers J. Hale’s Political Descent: Malthus, Mutualism, and the Politics of Evolution in Victorian England is not only about this moment of Charles Darwin’s close reading of both Malthus and Lamarck, Hale’s fascinating and provocative study is also about the ways the legacy of that reading came to haunt intellectual modernity and after. For the Victorians, Hale writes, “biology and politics were mutually informative subjects”. That is surely true now as well. Thus in a book ostensibly restricted to Malthus, mutualism, and politics, we find so much more. Political Descent must be situated historiographically in a longstanding debate among historians of biology about the politics of evolution. Adrian Desmond, Robert J. Richards, Janet Browne, Peter Bowler, and many others have had much to say on these matters, and most historians readily accept Adrian Desmond’s assertion that evolutionary ideas – particularly Lamarckian ones – were associated with radical politics. Hale’s contribution to this debate is to show firstly, as most historians recognize, that Darwin’s discovery of a Malthusian mechanism for natural selection, moved the politics of evolution into a more normative political dialogue, while secondly showing, which most historians have missed, that a strong tradition of anti-Malthusian, heavily Lamarckian thought persisted into the twentieth century. The politics of evolution, Hale demonstrates in Political Descent, was thus much more contested than historians have hitherto recognized. In broad brush detail, Political Descent tells a story that is about the formulation of theories of natural law and the advance of secularization. It is a book about labor and industry, individual struggle and social evolution, political norms and radical politics, and the relationship between culture and biology. Famous ‘Darwinians’ and ‘evolutionists’ grace its pages – Spencer, Chambers, Wallace, Huxley, Kropotkin, Galton, Weismann, and Pearson. There, too, however, are seemingly less likely figures for a history of biology – Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Beatrice Webb, William Morris, Herbert George Wells, George Bernard Shaw, Benjamin Kidd, and many others. All saw the question of whether natural selection acts on individuals or groups to be essential to answer, and appropriately for our Neuro Times, most also recognized that the answer would have immediate ramification for the study of mind, brain, and human behavior.Political Descent begins with Charles Darwin but places him in an ongoing debate about the politics of evolution. Darwin had long reflected on both man’s moral and rational character when he began writing his famous essay On the Origin of Species. Many of his teachers and mentors had possessed differing opinions on this controversial subject. On his famous voyage, Darwin had also witnessed the way the environment could influence the behavior of human beings. It was clear to Darwin that men had acquired the capacity for sympathy, and, in time, he had come to believe that this was an evolved faculty but one potentially preempted by harsh climates and primitive living conditions. His thoughts early-on about these matters had drawn heavily upon the writings of Erasmus Darwin, his paternal grandfather, and William Godwin, the most famous political radical of the late 1700s, an English Condorcet, and quintessential Enlightenment optimist, who argued th[...]

How Lamarck Divided the Species


Here is a fact worthy of readers attention. From Jean-Baptiste Lamarck:

In order to avoid ambiguity and hypothesis, I divide the entire known animal world in my first course of lectures at the Museum in the spring of 1794 (the year II of the republic) into two perfectly distinct groups, viz: Animals that have vertebrae; Animals without vertebrae.

J. B. Lamarck, Zoological Philosophy. Translated by Hugh Elliot (New York and London: Hafner Publishing Co, 1963), p. 62.

A Further Note on "Contagious Shooting"


In my recent history of "Contagious Shooting," I suggested that mechanical metaphors would be mobilized in media discourse to shape further public attitudes about the physiological nature of police over-reaction. Yesterday, Joel F. Shults, writing in The Washington Post, delivered this fine nugget:

Brain processes take time and often move slower than reality. A study published in 2003 showed that it takes a shooter about one-third of a second to recognize a threat, then each trigger pull takes one-tenth of a second. But the mental process of deciding to stop shooting takes longer than the decision to shoot. The result is that another two or three shots can be fired as the senses, brain, nerves, and muscles put on the brakes. In other words, an officer can execute several trigger pulls after a visual input indicates a subject is no longer a threat.

Further, multiple shots don’t guarantee that a person will not continue to advance or attack. And it can take over a second for a body to fall to the ground after being fatally shot. This leaves even more time for shots to be fired before an officer’s finger stops pulling the trigger.

In total, whatever happened in Ferguson likely happened in the time it takes to sing the first four words of the national anthem – and the officer was forced to make quick decisions to keep up.

Take a look at the study. Just do it.(image)

The Trial of Rebecca Schuman's Tractatus


Rebecca Schuman hates academia so much that she gets paid to write a regular column for about it. And she positively hates on anyone who fails to recognize her viewpoint and faun over her logic. Fully realizing that for her the road leading to fame and glory as an education pundit is lined with blazing righteous indignation about all of the problems in higher education she sees and knows can be corrected if we just get rid of all the tenured and tenure-track faculty, who, of course, are egotistical jerks, Schuman writes contempt with unmatched panache and is a leading stylist in the art of derision. She manages almost always to write about problems everyone agrees are problems in ways that makes it seem that she is the only one with the adroit logic to see and solve the problem. Her solution is simple: fire everyone. And probably burn all the libraries too. And destroy the buildings. And ignite effigies of philosophers that do not meet with her approval. And, after all of that, recommend truth and reconciliation commission for adjuncts and students, who have been traumatized by the horror that is the tradition of universities for centuries.Her latest salvo has been aimed at a problem that everyone loves to hate: the smarmy, self-satisfied, mirror-staring Professor – who Schuman identifies as always being HE – who assigns his own books and forces his students to buy them at an exaggeratedly high cost in order to milk the naïve suckers for every penny they are worth and simultaneously bask in the adulation of their young minds. Nobody – and I mean nobody – likes this guy.But like so many stereotypes that Schuman roles out to satisfy the anti-intellectualism of her audience and to give herself the opportunity to engage in smug sanctimony, the myth is ever-so-much larger than the reality. But even if HE were not, even if these gigantic and poorly founded myths of the grasping professor were true, so what? Let’s talk about this for a second.Firstly, Schuman allows that there might be professors in STEM who could have written something so arcane that their book is the only one out there that students can buy. Secondly, she insinuates that adjuncts might have a reasonable case for doing this as well because of their exploitation. She doesn’t mention, of course, that business professors might do this because it makes good business sense, a point that would serve – I presume – of making a pedagogically significant point to business majors. Of course, there are also engineering professors who might write books too that are original and substantive. In other words, the only class of people who work in universities who positively should not assign their monographs are the people Schuman most despises: tenured humanities and social sciences professors. So a rule applies to them, which applies to no one else who works in universities. And Schuman doesn’t have a problem with that. Why?The presumption she makes is that there really isn’t anything new worth saying in the humanities and social sciences. And, if there is, then surely lots of scholars have said those things, and so all of these works are the ones that students should be given to read. Now that might be the case when it comes to, say Kafka and Wittgenstein, but it is simply not the case in many instances. Consider one of my favorite books – Jeffrey Burton Russell’s Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and the Historians.This book is a brilliant anecdote about the nature of historiography. I have no idea if Russell ever assigned it in his own classes – but if he needed to, then he damn well should have done so, because there is no other text like it. Got that? Not one. And his lesson is so clear, so straightforward, and so precise, that the work is absolutely perfect [...]

The Recent History of “Contagious Shooting” (1982-2006) and more recent events in Ferguson, Missouri


In the decade since the “Decade of the Brain” the neurosciences have acquired a spectacular cache in the humanities and social sciences. One need look no further than the work of Nikolas Rose and Joelle M. Abi-Rached, scholars who argue in their striking volume Neuro: The New Brain Sciences and Management of the Mind that governing in the future will occur through the brain (2013). While for contemporary neuroscientists and neurologists such an expansion of a-disciplinary neuroscience might and probably should represent a crisis in terms of the public face of their science and practice (see Sally Satel and Scott O. Lilienfeld 2013), I would suggest that when combined with other disconcerting trends in governence these developments have wider implications in terms of global civil society, policy, common law systems, jurisprudence, and economics. Such a starting place may seem very far away from Ferguson, Missouri. But I think that isn’t the case at all. And in this long essay, I’ll try to explain why.Whether people identify with it or not, there are undeniable geneticist qua mechanistic currents now pervasive within media analyses (and hence also public understanding) about ways we should manage social, economic, and political decay in urban and rural environments. Much of this discourse justifies both excessive violence against, and also the dehumanization of, people who for whatever reason, are identified with the marginal, the poor, the weak, the downtrodden etc. While it is easy to read part of this brutality as symptomatic of the anti-human nature of neoliberal, global capitalism (e.g. David Harvey 2012), I think it far more convincing to describe growing authoritarianism seen in developed societies as symptomatic of a war against particular forms of public liberty and of decline in trust in institutional governance. The militarization of the constabulary is only the most dramatic recent demonstration of the militarization of much in the civilian sphere, including science, a process which began and has continued from the time of the Cold War (see the scholarship of John Krige or Philip Mirowski). It is surprising, of course, to see the advance of this process even in so far distant a field as neuroscience. But only a cursory knowledge of the history of recent neuroscience makes this a particularly credible claim, not least in crass examples of the way knowledge from the civilian neurosciences was mobilized in torture (as detailed by, for instance, by James Kennaway in Bad Vibrations) or in the deployment of the LRAD (long range acoustic device) against public protests which has been an ongoing police procedure since 2009. Beyond studies of the neuroscience, such thinking has characterized the work of many renowned scholars, including Sheldon Wolin, who although speaking of statistics and technocracy rather than neuroscience, has painted similarly glum pictures of the nature of growing “inverted totalitarianism”. Tempting as it may be to describe neuroscience as the ‘liberatory’ stuff of the search for secular selfhood, in this context it is plausible to infer the emergence of such coercive and illiberal strategies and tactics as marking the defining nature of our cultures and encounters with (and beyond) neurodiscourse and neuroscience.How so? It is obvious that the rhetoric of this science matters and it is mobilized alongside real force. Consider the implicit association test. On the face of it, this psychological test can only provide a cursory understanding of peoples’ propensities towards prejudice. But the way findings from psychological studies using this test are mobilized in the public sphere is often in the service of an apparatus to explain away, among other things, police brutality (and likel[...]

The Neurologists: A history of a medical specialty in modern Britain, c 1789-2000


“An important contribution to our understanding of specialization in medicine. Casper's carefully researched and lucidly argued study presents an illuminating picture of the way in which British neurology developed an intellectual and ultimately institutional identity separate from that of elite medicine generally. It is a complex and nuanced story that cannot be explained by technological innovation or market incentives alone.”  Charles Rosenberg, Harvard University “A most substantial and illuminating contribution, not only to the history of neurology, but also to our understanding of scientific-medical disciplines and the relationship of science to its broader context. Casper uses the confusing and often contradictory usages of the words "neurology" and "neurologist" by historical actors in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as points of departure for a convincing and richly contextualized historical account of neurology and the dynamics of specialization.” Professor Daniel Todes, Johns Hopkins University The last twenty years in the English speaking world have seen the rise of a new cultural discourse derived from neurology and neuroscience. Found everywhere in this contemporary moment are cultural products that celebrate these fields: fMRI brain scans, case studies of neurological patients, works of science fiction focusing on cybernetic creatures, films about amnesia, hallucinations, and multiple personality disorders, popular science books, and, not least, an overwhelming imagery of brains, spines and nerves. How we arrived at this moment deserves consideration and contemplation. What is it about neurology and neuroscience that makes such perceptions self-evident? Telling this story requires a history devoted to analyzing the rise of medical and scientific neurology. The Neurologists is that book. When I set out to write my book, I wanted to give my readers an opportunity to answer those questions. At the same time, no comparable book on neurology existed. In beginning my research, I felt very much at sea. What historically had been the differences between neurology and psychiatry? Was neurology synonymous with neuroscience before the advent of neuroscience? How did physiology and pathology fit into the story? Could Freud really be called a neurologist? Such questions were not, and are not, easy to answer. I hope, however, that The Neurologists provides readers with a place to start. Although I realize that many may disagree with my interpretation about the reasons underpinning the specialization of neurology into a branch of medicine, I suspect many new scholars interested in these topics will find it a useful place to begin.   The Neurologists focuses chiefly on Britain. It describes the ways Victorian physicians located in a medical culture that privileged wide knowledge over narrow specialism came to be transformed into the specialized physicians we now call neurologists. As the subtitle of my book, The Neurologists, emphasizes, physicians with interests in the nervous system often worked and practiced as either consultant physicians without a specialty or as general practitioners. While their interests in the various sciences and medicines of the nerves – pathology, physiology, psychiatry, alienism, and neurology - might well suggest a specialist identity to us now, these physicians did not understand their work and interests in so sharp a fashion. Indeed, I argue in my book that the normative limits placed upon their professional identity by work and culture often prevented them from moving in such a narrow direction. The outcome of such limits was that British physicians became neurologists by adopting a professional self-identity that was so wide that it[...]

NeuroPun: Neurologian


Published here by permission of Ngan "Kim" Le.


Jonah Lehrer's New Blog


Jonah Lehrer has started a new blog (link here). I am personally of the opinion that he should be given a third (if last) chance.

Forgiveness is a virtue known only to humans. Forgetfulness is a still better advantage. I think we all would do well to exercise both more frequently. Am I wrong?(image)

NeuroPun: RAF Brain Centre


From the awesome New York Public Library Digital Collection (link here).(image)

Tortoises - A Video


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W. Grey Walter's robots, c. 1951


Humanities scholarship is incredibly relevant


Natalia Cecire gives a roaring defense of the humanities - one to which I would love to see the usual suspects actually respond (not that they will). She observes:

The humanities are often represented as an irrelevant, moribund, and merely preservationist field, passing on old knowledge of old things without producing anything new. That's why it keeps having to be "defended" by people saying, "no! old shit matters too!"
The reality, however, is more complicated than that pictures suggests:-
Do you know a black child who grew up knowing about America’s great traditions in African American literature, visual art, music, and film? Are you glad Their Eyes Were Watching God and Cane are in print? Then thank the scholars, artists, and activists who have recovered that work—often obscured by a racist publishing culture and by an academy that didn’t think it was important at the time. There’s a reason that students protested and sat in to fight for the establishment of ethnic studies and women’s studies departments in the 1960s and 70s. It wasn’t a fashion statement: serious formal engagement with the cultural contributions of women and ethnic minorities was urgently needed. No one can credibly say in public that women cannot be great authors anymore, for example, and when the writer V.S. Naipaul tried in 2011 (and David Gilmour in 2013), everybody knew how ridiculously wrong he was. How did they know? Thank the humanities. Thank those horrible feminist critics from the '80s who allegedly ruined literary scholarship. They worked like hell to change the language, and most of them never got famous.
It is obvious, of course, that some cranky and usually male academics did everything they could to prevent the very positive cultural changes prompted by research, curiosity, and resistance in the humanities. But the point is that there are very few cultural changes that have transpired - ever - that don't fundamentally represent a collision between humanistic ways of knowing. While many, and often those working in the biological and psychological sciences, for instance, were proclaiming the fixity of human nature, humanists and lovers of the humanities demonstrated that human nature was either plastic or non-existent. And that's just one example for your Sunday reading.(image)

A Dragon Illusion.


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Why Academics Should Blog (Part II)


A peer-reviewed article published in "Studies in Higher Education" quotes our blog extensively in an analysis of blogging among academics. The authors of the study - Inger Mewburn and Pat Thomson - are justifiably proud that their research article has already been accessed around 2000 times thanks to "gold access" (and no doubt their article will become a citation classic). That said, our original article has been access 8489 times and never needed "gold" or "green" access. Need we say more about the value of blogging for academics!(image)

"Neuro" & Integration


So I'm finally getting around to reading closely Rose and Abi-Rached's Neuro: The New Brain Sciences and the Management of the Mind, a book that I am sure will at times provoke me and at other times impress me. I'm reviewing it for the "Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences", and so readers will have to await for my general reaction for some time still. But already on page 4 I'm finding myself thinking - "huh - that is how you both understand that?" The authors, citing Roger Smith, write:
Nor is there anything particularly novel in the challenge that contemporary neuroscientists mount to dualism. For example, in the early decades of the twentieth-century, Charles Sherrington sought to develop an integrated theory of brain and mind, and this was the prelude to a host of neurological, psychological, and philosophical attempts to clarify the mind-body relation; it also led to a host of worries about the implications for the higher human values of morality, autonomy, wholeness and individuality.

Now the authors have already mentioned that Sherrington never really abandoned his claim that the relationship between mind and brain was unclear and fraught. So kudos. But it is also a very strange reading of the "Integrative Action of the Nervous System" and indeed Sherrington's later work to say that it aimed for an integrated theory of brain and mind. One might say that Sherrington's work was a studied attempt to see how far one could go in studying the action of reflexes all the way to the level of the cerebrum without actually postulating anything about "mind" at all! Oh I admit that there are a few coy references here and there in all of Sherrington's books to behavior, to responses, etc., and these are mainly cast in ethological terms, but I doubt that they amount to anything so forceful as an attempt at an integrated theory of brain and mind. So...hmmm seems in order.

Updated: The book is coming out in June!


A poster I presented a long time ago at the Association of British Neurologists meeting at the Royal College of Physicians London. The book will tell you the story of British neurology - from 1789 to 2000.


Neuroscience & Society - readings for Spring Term.


If you are taking neuroscience & society with me next term, then these are the books we will be reading together.Neuro: The New Brain Sciences and the Management of the Mind Paperback by Nikolas Rose (Author) , Joelle M. Abi-Rached (Author) ; ISBN-13:978-0691149615Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience [Hardcover] Sally Satel (Author), Scott O. Lilienfeld (Author) ISBN-13:978-0465018772 Neuropsychedelia: The Revival of Hallucinogen Research since the Decade of the Brain Paperback by Nicolas Langlitz (Author) ISBN-13:978-0520274822 Psychedelic Psychiatry: LSD from Clinic to Campus [Hardcover] Erika Dyck (Author) ISBN-13:978-0801889943Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference Paperback by  Cordelia Fine (Author) ISBN-13:978-0393340242Pharmaceutical Reason: Knowledge and Value in Global Psychiatry (Cambridge Studies in Society and the Life Sciences) [Paperback] Andrew Lakoff (Author) ISBN-13:978-0521546669 Appropriate research paper topics might include: reverse engineering the brain; the neurochemical vs the neuro-tech self in sports medicine; brain-technology interfaces in treatment of neurological diseases; mathematical and statistical translations in neuroscience; the origins of computational neuroscience, 1930-2000;neurological determinism and contemporary jurisprudence;psychometric thinking in neuroscience;virtual reality and visual neuroscience;the social construction of concussion disorders;the history of imaging technology;cold war politics, militarism, and brain sciencea biography of any neurological disease  [...]

About that PNAS Article: Journalism and Neurosexism


" those interested in gender equality there is nothing at all frightening about good science. It is only carelessly done science, or poorly interpreted science, or the neurosexism it feeds, that creates cause for concern."Cordelia Fine Delusions: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference (Norton 2010), 238. A couple of days ago the Critical Neuroscience Facebook linked to a splashy article in The Guardian entitled "Male and Female Brains Wired Differently, Scans Reveal". The Independent (hat-tip Cordelia Fine) followed up with an article titled "The Hardwired Difference between Male and Female Brains could explain Why Men are 'better at map reading'". Both articles referred to a recently published academic article appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences under the lofty title "Sex differences in the structural connectome of the human brain". (Hardwired has a rather interesting history as a keyword in neuroscience.)In the original paper, the authors use a large sample population sufficient to "elucidate sex differences in networks reliably" and from there they segment their sample into three distinct age groups: 8-13 (n= 158 females and 156 males); 13-17 (180 females - 131 males), and, 17-22 (183 females and 141 males). The authors write: "these groups correspond roughly to the developmental stages of childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood" (page 2). Thereafter, the study explored the so-called human connectome of men and women (connectome is a new neuro-culture buzzword which appears historically as a rather new iteration of the old holism vs localism argument that has traditionally plagued the short history of neurology). Using "fiber tractography", the authors describe gender differences via a structural connectome, and thereafter they show many fine illustrations of wiring differences between men and women, and they then provide a series of boilerplate assessments about the ways these differences translate into behavioral practices. I'm always rather surprised by the tin-ear of authors of studies such as these - intuition? really? Now while the journalists have been very excited to discover that men and women are different and that their brains are different (here comes boilerplate neurosexism), a whole number of rather interesting science studies question arise in the context of this particular paper. I don't want to violate copyright, so I'm not going to copy and paste in Figure 1 from the original paper. But it is a fascinating example of a series of ontological, technological, and statistical translations leading to a 'wiring diagram', i.e. an ostensibly metaphoric image standing in for a series of evidently absent but detectible and determinative differences. These differences in wiring are then cast into normative social frames and categories. Cordelia Fine does a pretty good job in this essay of unpacking those normative claims both in the paper and also in the the subsequent journalism, but there is a great STS paper waiting there also for someone to come along and look at the 'house of cards.' I'm guessing, but I think the real STS story awaits in the difference between functional connectomes and structural connectomes (I stretch but does this not conjure the old debates in anthropology between structuralism and functionalism?!).Don't ignore that point, but let me add an observation about this paper (I'm thinking alo[...]