Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience

Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless

 

In recent years, the advent of MRI technology seems to have unlocked the secrets of the human mind, revealing the sources of our deepest desires, intentions, and fears. As renowned psychiatrist and scholar Sally Satel and psychologist Scott O. Lilienfeld demonstrate in Brainwashed, however, the explanatory power of brain scans in particular and neuroscience more generally has been vastly overestimated. Although acknowledging its tremendous potential, the authors argue that the overzealous application of the burgeoning field of brain science has put innocent people in jail, prevented addicts from healing themselves, and undermined notions of free will and responsibility.

A provocative challenge to the use and abuse of a seductive science, Brainwashed offers an essential corrective to determinist explanations of human behavior.

From Booklist
*Starred Review* What do the bright and colorful splotches on brain scans tell us about the mind and human behavior? Not as much as we’d like to think, according to psychiatrist Satel and psychologist Lilienfeld, who caution against the overheated promises of neuroscience that have crept into commerce, law, sociology, and science itself. Could brain scans replace focus groups, counseling, and lie detectors to explain our actions, feelings, and potential? Focusing on the use of brain scans in marketing (to identify emotional triggers), addiction treatment (to look beyond efforts at self-control), and law enforcement (to mitigate responsibility for criminal behavior), they ponder the broader implications of relying too much on neurology—and not enough on psychology—to explain human behavior. Placing MRIs in historical context, including the phrenology fad, they question the scientific soundness of using brain scans in fields other than neurology. As interesting are important issues they raise, from worries about cognitive liberty to the right to protect yourself against incrimination and unreasonable searches and seizures. This fascinating book cautions against the appeal and seeming authority of the brain scan, which renders it vulnerable to conscription in the service of one or another political or social agenda. –Vanessa Bush
Review
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.”

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…if 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”

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.”

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