Friday, June 28, 2013

Brainwashed: Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience (

Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience (2013) has recieved excellent reviews from a lot of major publications, including the Wall Street Journal and New York Times (from David Brooks, who moderates the discussion below).

Here are a couple of the blurbs:
The New Scientist“The intrepid outsider needs expert guidance through this rocky terrain – and there's no better place to start than Brainwashed by Sally Satel and Scott O. Lilienfeld. Satel, a practising psychiatrist, and Lilienfeld, a clinical psychologist, are terrific sherpas. They are clear-sighted, considered and forgiving of the novice's ignorance” 
Nature“Satel and Lilienfeld provide an engaging overview of the technical and conceptual factors that complicate the interpretation of brain scans obtained by functional magnetic resonance imaging and other techniques…. Brainwashed offers much to bolster popular understanding of what brain imaging can and cannot achieve.”
And here is the publisher's summary of the book:
What can’t neuroscience tell us about ourselves? Since fMRI—functional magnetic resonance imaging—was introduced in the early 1990s, brain scans have been used to help politicians understand and manipulate voters, determine guilt in court cases, and make sense of everything from musical aptitude to romantic love. But although brain scans and other neurotechnologies have provided groundbreaking insights into the workings of the human brain, the increasingly fashionable idea that they are the most important means of answering the enduring mysteries of psychology is misguided—and potentially dangerous. 
In Brainwashed, psychiatrist and AEI scholar Sally Satel and psychologist Scott O. Lilienfeld reveal how many of the real-world applications of human neuroscience gloss over its limitations and intricacies, at times obscuring—rather than clarifying—the myriad factors that shape our behavior and identities. Brain scans, Satel and Lilienfeld show, are useful but often ambiguous representations of a highly complex system. Each region of the brain participates in a host of experiences and interacts with other regions, so seeing one area light up on an fMRI in response to a stimulus doesn’t automatically indicate a particular sensation or capture the higher cognitive functions that come from those interactions. The narrow focus on the brain’s physical processes also assumes that our subjective experiences can be explained away by biology alone. As Satel and Lilienfeld explain, this “neurocentric” view of the mind risks undermining our most deeply held ideas about selfhood, free will, and personal responsibility, putting us at risk of making harmful mistakes, whether in the courtroom, interrogation room, or addiction treatment clinic.

A provocative account of our obsession with neuroscience, Brainwashed brilliantly illuminates what contemporary neuroscience and brain imaging can and cannot tell us about ourselves, providing a much-needed reminder about the many factors that make us who we are.
The fact that one of the authors of this book has been writing books for the American Enterprize Institute (a conservative policy organization), and has co-written a book with the conservative Christina Hoff Sommers, makes me a little skeptical about ulterior motives for this book.

This is why I am skeptical, from the above text about the book:
Satel and Lilienfeld explain, this “neurocentric” view of the mind risks undermining our most deeply held ideas about selfhood, free will, and personal responsibility, putting us at risk of making harmful mistakes, whether in the courtroom, interrogation room, or addiction treatment clinic.
Personal responsibility and free will are essential to the conservative agenda, especially in the legal realm. We can't have people being acquitted of crimes due to brain defects resulting from abuse, neglect, or other traumas. We can't stop putting addicts in jail simply because they had little control over their tendency toward addiction and the environmental factors that made drugs seem like a useful copiung strategy.

Hell, if we took those things into account, our prisons would be empty and the legal system . . . yadda, yadda, yadda.

Brainwashed: Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience
from American Enterprise Institute on

Brainwashed: Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience

Partner: American Enterprise Institute
Location: American Enterprise Institute
Washington, D.C.
Event Date: 06.17.13


"Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience" (Basic Books, June 2013), by psychiatrist and AEI scholar Sally Satel and Emory University psychologist Scott Lilienfeld, follows the migration of brain science - and brain imaging in particular - out of the lab and into the public sphere.

Join New York Times columnist David Brooks as he engages the authors in a discussion of popular neuroscience (both the mindless and the mindful), of biological explanations of human behavior and their implications, and of the centrality of the concept of the mind in an age of neuroscience. Books will be available for purchase at the event.


David Brooks has been an op-ed columnist for The New York Times since 2003. Previously, he was an editor at The Wall Street Journal, a senior editor at The Weekly Standard, and a contributing editor at Newsweek and The Atlantic. Currently a commentator on PBS’s “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” Brooks is also the author, most recently, of The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character. His earlier books are Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There and On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense. He has contributed essays and articles to many publications, including The New Yorker, Forbes, The Public Interest, The New Republic, and Commentary. He is a frequent commentator on NPR, CNN’s “Late Edition,” and “The Diane Rehm Show.”

Scott Lilienfeld is a clinical psychologist and Professor of Psychology at Emory University in Atlanta. Scott earned his bachelor's degree in psychology from Cornell University and his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota. His principal areas of research are personality disorders, psychiatric classification and diagnosis, evidence-based practices in psychology, and the challenges posed by pseudo-science to clinical psychology. Scott received the 1998 David Shakow Award for Early Career Contributions to Clinical Psychology, is a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science, and is a past president of the Society for a Science of Clinical Psychology. He is the co-author of Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology and Psychology: From Inquiry to Understanding.

Sally Satel, M.D., a practicing psychiatrist and lecturer at the Yale University School of Medicine, examines mental health policy as well as political trends in medicine. Her publications include PC, M.D.: How Political Correctness Is Corrupting Medicine (Basic Books, 2001); The Health Disparities Myth (AEI Press, 2006); When Altruism Isn't Enough: The Case for Compensating Organ Donors (AEI Press, 2009); and One Nation under Therapy (St. Martin's Press, 2005), co-authored with Christina Hoff Sommers.
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