This provocative account of our obsession with neuroscience 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.
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. 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.
Although brain scans and other neurotechnologies have provided groundbreaking insights into the workings of the human brain, Brainwashed shows readers that the increasingly fashionable idea that they are the most important means of answering the enduring mysteries of psychology is misguided -- and potentially dangerous.
About the Author
Sally Satel is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, a lecturer at Yale University School of Medicine, and a practicing psychiatrist. The author of PC, M.D., she holds an MD from Brown University. Satel lives in Washington, DC.
Scott O. Lilienfeld is a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Emory University. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
Andrew Solomon, author of Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity This thoughtful, provocative book provides a needed counterbalance to the arrogant neuromythology that purports to explain all of human behavior through brain imaging. It makes a strong moral argument that we are, ultimately, creatures of choice who can exercise will; it grapples boldly with a science that has sometimes threatened our understanding of what it is to be human.”
Charles Murray, author of Coming Apart Science develops new tools that have promise for illuminating age-old questions, and those new tools are then misused or oversold until expectations are finally reconciled with reality. Sally Satel and Scott Lilienfield tell the story of neuroscience's real and illusory contribution to goals that range from treating addiction and detecting lies to mapping the neural underpinnings of morality. It is a daunting topic, but Brainwashed somehow manages to blend the authors' mastery of their subject with compulsive readability.”
Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing A smart and sometimes devastating critique of neurobollocks'… this book is a brisk read, but a good one — and, I would argue, an important one.”
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.”
Huffington Post "[An] important new book.... Brainwashed is not an anti-neuroscience book by any means. Indeed, the authors celebrate the new insights into human thought and behavior that brain studies have yielded. But the book does take a hard stand against the prevailing neurocentrism, and aims to restore some balance to our understanding of human fallibility, including drug and alcohol addiction."
BBC Focus "In a witty but no-hold-barred book, the authors skewer the ridiculous claims of those who tell us that brain imaging can unlock the secrets of the mind.... Brainwashed explains why we must be skeptical and accept that, if anything, brain research has revealed just how much further we have to go."
Gary Marcus, Newyorker.com "The book does a terrific job of explaining where and how savvy readers should be skeptical."
Discover "Well-written and remarkably balanced . Should you buy it?... For new readers, or as a gift, it would be fantastic."
Metapsychology Offers an availing expose on the recklessly radical conclusions of Naïve Neuroscience and what must be addressed to maintain a comprehensive, sensible and constrained Modern Neuroscience.”
Reason "A skeptical but fair-minded review of the field that carefully distinguishes between wild hopes and actual accomplishments."
Commentary [A] lucid new book”
The Scientist Brainwashed is a reasoned, humane addition to the growing neuroskeptic' bookshelf.”
Booklist, Starred Review "[A] fascinating book."
Library Journal An accessible entry point to important and timely neuroethical discussions. Above all, readers will learn why they should turn a critical eye to reports that begin, Brain scans show…'”
Kirkus Reviews A valuable contribution to the neuroscience bookshelf.”
Wall Street Journal In their concise and well-researched book, [Satel and Lilienfeld] offer a reasonable and eloquent critique of this fashionable delusion, chiding the premature or unnecessary application of brain science to commerce, psychiatry, the law and ethics.... In a book that uses 'mindless' accusatively in the subtitle, you might expect an excitable series of attacks on purveyors of what's variously called neurohype, neurohubris and neurobollocks. But more often than not Dr. Satel and Mr. Lilienfeld stay fair and levelheaded. Good thing, because this is a topic that requires circumspection on all sides.”
New York Times Dr. Satel and Dr. Lilienfeld offer a methodical critique of this oversimplified neuro-nonsense, convincingly arguing that in many ways the M.R.I.'s of today are simply the phrenology heads of yesteryear, laughably primitive attempts to wrangle human character and behavior into tractable form.”
Paul Bloom, Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science at Yale and author of How Pleasure Works In this smart, provocative and very accessible book, Satel and Lilienfeld are not out to bury neuroscience; they are here to save itto rescue it from those who have wildly exaggerated its practical and theoretical benefits. Some of this book is very funny, as when they review the dubious history of neuromarketing and neuropolitics, and some of it is dead serious, as in their discussion of how the abuse of neuroscience distorts criminal law and the treatment of addicts. Brainwashed is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the use and abuse of one of the most important scientific developments of our time.”
Hal Pashler, Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science, University of California, San Diego Brainwashed provides an engaging and wonderfully lucid tour of the many areas in which the progress and applications of neuroscience are currently being overstated and oversold. Some of the hyping of neuroscience appears fairly harmless, but more than a little of it carries potential for real damageespecially when it promotes erroneous ideas about addiction and criminal behavior. The book combines clearheaded analysis with telling examples and anecdotes, making it a pleasure to read.”
Steven Pinker, Harvard College Professor of Psychology, and author of How the Mind Works and The Stuff of Thought Neuroscience is an exhilarating frontier of knowledge, but many of its champions have gotten carried away. This book shows how attempts to explain the human condition by pointing to crude blotches of brain activity may be superficially appealing but are ultimately unsatisfying. Sally Satel and Scott Lilienfeld are not dualists, romantics, mystics, or luddites. Their case for understanding the mind at multiple levels of analysis will resonate with thoughtful psychologists and biologists, and they make that case lucidly, expertly, and entertainingly. Anyone who is interested in the brainand who isn't?will be enlightened by this lively yet judicious critique.”
PsycCRITIQUES In this volume, these two prolific authors combine their talents to provocatively call for caution concerning many of the promises associated with neuroscience.... A very readable, even entertaining, commentary on how neuroscience is beginning to change the world.... A welcome reminder of the never-ending need for healthy skepticism as we encounter the various creative endeavors that so often accompany emerging scientific developments.”
The National Review [An] incisive and clearly written book.... [I]f you want to know where and why the neuroscientific used-car salesmen are wrong, if you want to arm yourself against their preposterous overselling, read this book.”
David Brooks, New York Times "[A] compelling and highly readable book."
Slate A well-informed attack on the extravagances of neurocentrist” thought.”
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”
Jeffrey Rosen, Professor of Law, George Washington University and Legal Affairs Editor, The New Republic Brainwashed challenges the much-hyped claim that neuroscience will transform everything from marketing to the legal system to our ideas of blameworthiness and free will. Satel and Lilienfeld bring much needed skeptical intelligence to this field, giving neuroscience its due while recognizing its limitations. This is an invaluable contribution to one of our most contested debates about the ability of science to transform society.”
Peter D. Kramer, author of Against Depression An authoritative, fascinating argument for the centrality of mind in what, doubtless prematurely, has been called the era of the brain.”