By Adam Gopnik | Sept 9, 2013 | The New Yorker
“Writers on the brain and the mind tend to divide into Spocks and Kirks, either embracing the idea that consciousness can be located in a web of brain tissue or debunking it. For the past decade, at least, the Spocks have been running the Enterprise: there are books on your brain and music, books on your brain and storytelling, books that tell you why your brain makes you want to join the Army, and books that explain why you wish that Bar Refaeli were in the barracks with you. The neurological turn has become what the “cultural” turn was a few decades ago: the all-purpose non-explanation explanation of everything. Thirty years ago, you could feel loftily significant by attaching the word “culture” to anything you wanted to inspect: we didn’t live in a violent country, we lived in a “culture of violence”; we didn’t have sharp political differences, we lived in a “culture of complaint”; and so on. In those days, Time, taking up the American pursuit of pleasure, praised Christopher Lasch’s “The Culture of Narcissism”; now Time has a cover story on happiness and asks whether we are “hardwired” to pursue it.
Myths depend on balance, on preserving their eternal twoness, and so we have on our hands a sudden and severe Kirkist backlash. A series of new books all present watch-and-ward arguments designed to show that brain science promises much and delivers little. They include “A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind” (St. Martin’s), by Robert A. Burton; “Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuro-Science” (Basic), by Sally Satel and Scott O. Lilienfeld; and “Neuro: The New Brain Sciences and the Management of the Mind” (Princeton), by a pair of cognitive scientists, Nikolas Rose and Joelle M. Abi-Rached.”