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An overview of the book, The Future of the Brain: The Promise and Perils of Tomorrow’s Neuroscience, by Steven Rose

The Future of the Brain
Amongst those who think that the mind is not a non-physical, separate entity from the brain, there are still many who think the mind is more than just the brain. Dr Rose, a neuroscientist from the UK, who wrote a thought provoking book by the title The Future of the Brain: The Promise and Perils of Tomorrow’s Neuroscience is one of those who thinks that since the brain and body are intimately interconnected, one cannot really consider the brain separately and that the mind is certainly also influenced by the combination of the brain, body as well as by their interactions with the environment.

How is that different from reductionism? Well, according to Dr Rose, the idea behind reductionism is that you can explain a phenomenon by completely breaking it down into its parts. Hence, reductionists would suggest that once the functioning of the different parts of the brain was completely understood then one would understand how the mind was generated. This is not Dr Rose’s view however and he feels that even if people had the same genetic make-up (a clone), behavior would be different because of the interaction of the environment.

Dr Rose insists repeatedly on the fact that the mind is more than just the brain. For instance emotions shape what we think and they engage both our brain as well as our bodies via hormones and other biochemicals. Because of this he feels the brain-body distinction is obsolete and because of their intimate interconnection they need to be considered together. In the same way, he feels that although genes specify what the brain (and the body) can become, the brain has plasticity in that what actually occurs is the result of experience. In other words, as already discussed in other articles on this web site, the brain is not made of hard wiring that stays the same once it is formed.

Dr Rose also feels we are still a long way from understanding how the brain and body generate the mind and in his book he warns us against the dangers of the reductionist view. A view only too readily embraced by pharma companies when they launch their drugs despite the fact that their mechanisms of action are often poorly understood or are based on an incomplete understanding of what neurotransmitters do.

Finally Dr Rose insists on the fact that, irrespective of the phenomenon being studied, the types of questions asked and what we look for, are always the result of a certain view of things, a certain world view. Because of this, the reductionist view may result in restraining considerably the questions being asked and missing the overall picture. Likewise, the questions being asked are also influenced significantly by the tools we have because these also affect the way we see the world. For instance, functional MRI opened up new possibilities in understanding how the brain works but the danger is that our questions become too narrow and dependent on those aspects that can be studied by this tool.

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