Priya Umachandran

Brain Policy Now?

The title of this paper references political scientist Robert Blank’s 1999 book ‘Brain Policy: How the new neurosciences will change our lives and our politics.’ The contention in this book, and from many other interdisciplinary sources, is that research on the material brain will ‘change’ both the content of government policies and the policy making process itself. Indeed, one of the questions posed by this conference is: Where can the neurosciences and humanities guide policy making? My paper will contend that many constructions of relationships between the neurosciences and policy making construe neuroscience research as acting upon policy making. This is often described in the literature on this topic in narrow linear ways. However the ‘messy’ non-linear nature of policy making resists such direct and causal framings.

Despite this assertion, ‘change’ and relationships between the neurosciences and policy making can be still be considered albeit in wider, less causal ways. I will present a review of arguments from interdisciplinary sources that suggest research regarding the material brain is influencing the models of human behaviour considered by policy makers. These arguments pose different conceptions of the relationships between research from the neurosciences and contemporary policymaking. This paper will therefore also relate to the overall theme of this conference, regarding links between the neurosciences and conceptions of human nature.