How we think about our minds is more than a purely theoretical question, since our answers betray how we think of ourselves and of others, of nature and culture.
Over the past decade, the nature of mind has become one of the most heavily contested subjects between the neurosciences and the humanities, and both sides are unable to produce arguments which convince the other.
The neurosciences are supported by insurance and pharmaceutical companies, and by large international funding bodies such as the ERC which last year alone funded over 300 neuroscience projects with a total budget of almost €600 million. This support has spurred neuroscientists and their apologists to devise new understandings of human nature, and they welcome disciplines such as ‘neurolaw,’ neuroethics,’ and ‘neurohistory.’ They claim that the neurosciences provide answers which the humanities cannot, that they can answer the question ‘what does it mean to be human?’
Naturally, many humanists disagree. They see these new neuro-disciplines as an intrusion into theirs, and what’s more, all appeals to human nature reflect our own political attitudes and prejudices: our culture and our individuality, reduced to economic units and our capacity to work.
At best, it seems like both sides are talking past each other.
At worst, it seems like both sides aren’t even sure what they are talking about.
This website is a place where these problems can be thought out.
In the Dictionary section, there are short essays on themes that overlap between the neurosciences and the humanities, to clarify just what is at stake when we talk about these matters and to provoke you to think and to comment.
(Full disclosure: I don’t claim to be impartial, merely critical. I look forward to your criticisms, too!)
This website also provides videos, news articles and reflections on my own historical research to give at a glance the many ways that humanists and neuroscientists are currently work together (or not) to delve into one of our greatest secrets: the mind.
Ultimately, this website is a place to investigate what we think of human nature and how we got here.
By retracing our steps we can discover what lost avenues have yet to be explored.
Together, the neurosciences and the humanities can see what bright future they may hold for us.