[Paleopsych] NS: The 21st-Century Brain: Explaining, mending and manipulating the mind by Steven Rose

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The 21st-Century Brain: Explaining, mending and manipulating the 
mind by Steven Rose
      * 23 April 2005
      * Mike Holderness
      * Mike Holderness is a science writer

    STEVEN Rose is scathing about attempts to explain the mind's ills in
    terms of genes, as though they were just like one of the rare one-gene
    diseases. He equally abhors simple-minded accounts of how experiences
    happen. In The 21st-Century Brain he goes so far as to assert that to
    "interpret a particular pattern of neural activity as representing my
    experience of seeing a red bus...you need my entire neuronal and
    hormonal life history".

    I respond to this as I did to many of Edward Wilson's proposals in
    Consilience: why? To answer that would be an interesting research
    programme - because the oft-presumed answer that a snapshot will do
    the trick is no more certain to be right than is Rose's determined

    This similarity is ironic because Rose, director of the brain and
    biology research group at the UK's Open University, has devoted a
    significant part of his career to opposing Wilson. Like Consilience,
    though, The 21st-Century Brain is consciously a late-career book. The
    first half summarises and updates Rose's thinking on what having a
    brain and being a mind is about. It is written clearly, if readers are
    prepared to learn many terms as they go. His description of what
    happens to a brain (and the mind that inhabits it) with ageing cannot
    but be poignant. His warnings against the fashion for medicalising
    discontent and ability alike, with a pill for every skill, are

    Rose roots these warnings in Marxism, and thus attracts hostility and
    disbelief that one can do science while holding an ideology. I should
    note, therefore, that I am not his co-conspirator: I regard Marx as
    just another bourgeois economist.

    No one needs an ideology to insist, as Rose does, on looking at social
    context. In examining "attention deficit hyperactivity disorder" or
    "oppositional defiant disorder", for example, it is important to ask
    not just what happens to the neutotransmitter dopamine or why the drug
    Ritalin has an effect, but "attention to what?" and "defiance of
    what?" And why would the genes that allegedly cause those disorders be
    expressed so much more often in the US than elsewhere? If anything is
    ideological, it is the refusal to ask such glaring questions.

    Even if you disagree with every word in The 21st-Century Brain,
    including "but", if you are interested in brains or having a mind you
    must read it - precisely for the ifs and buts in it.

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