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Undue modesty

We must not overhype brain science. But the real risk is that we underestimate it

By Alexander Linklater   March 2010

Matter into Imagination 3 by Susan Aldworth, perspex plate on collagraph plate

Two basic dangers face the non-specialist when applying the insights of neuroscience. The first is to imagine that an empirical scientific practice, concerned with neurotransmitters and brain anatomy, will one day provide an explanation for most human experiences. It’s not just excitable dilettantes in the humanities and media who succumb to this fallacy, but also some excitable neuroscientists—who glimpse wider cultural and social potential in their work.

Perhaps the most famous example of this occurred when behavioural neurologist VS Ramachandran described “mirror” neurons—which fire up in monkeys both…

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