[Report] Annual Meeting of Japan Association for Philosophy of Science

25 July, 2010 TSUTSUI Haruka

The annual meeting of Japan Association for Philosophy of Science was held at Senshu University on June 12-13, 2010. I made a presentation "The 'brain' in the ‘male/female brain’ discourse" at the workshop "What is neuroscience literacy?" in this conference.

Since last year I have been studying the "neuroethics of sex differences." In this study, I have analyzed popular science literatures about the neuroscience of sex differences. The aims of my presentation at the workshop were to clarify popular images of "brain" or "neuroscience" and to suggest how to educate neuroscience literacy.

Recently, discourses on sex differences in the brain gain much popularity. Some of them contain questionable points such as exaggerating sex differences or trivializing sex-related social problems (For detail, see my presentation at the workshop "Brain Science and Ethics" held on March 2010).

Such discourses treat sex differences as something decisive and immutable, depending on claims like "Men and women are different in their brains" or "There are sex differences in the brain". Here, sex differences in the brain are regarded to bring essential differences to each person. According to current neuroscience, however, sex differences in the brain vary in their degrees, depending on regions. Besides, differences in the brain do not always lead to differences in particular capacities or behaviors. It is inappropriate to think that neuroscience reveals one’s whole personality by studying sex differences in the brain.

We can discern here that the brain is regarded as something like a simple entity that corresponds to one’s personality or essence. Such an essentialist view might invite some misunderstandings about and excessive expectations for neuroscience. Adequate neuroscience literacy is needed to avoid them.

Yet it is also the case that the image of the brain as a personality or human essence is so ubiquitous that we can find it even in contexts irrelevant to neuroscience. The word "brain" has a metaphorical power to represent one's temperament (e.g., the "male/female brain" and the "scientist brain" as expressions that show one's character). Even if people recognize that such an image of the brain has no neuroscientific ground, the word "brain" may not lose its rhetorical appeal.

Should every usage of "brain" as a human essence be regarded as pseudo-neuroscience? Do we have to extinguish all of such usages through the education of neuroscience literacy? Is it possible? Raising these questions, I closed my presentation.

Based on comments and suggestions I have received, I now think that when examining problems about discourses on the brain we need to focus more on various contexts and backgrounds in which a discourse might be, rather than just to try to label every discourse as neuroscience or pseudo-neuroscience in itself. The same discourse may need to be treated differently when it is referred in the context of science communication, a policy decision, everyday conversation or a literary work. Appropriate neuroscience literacy will include contextual ways of assessing and utilizing knowledge on the brain.

(Written by Haruka Tsutsui)

  • HOME>
    • Blog>
      • [Report] Annual Meeting of Japan Association for Philosophy of Science
//Page Top