What neuroscience reveals — or doesn’t — about the mind

June 24, 2013
The Brain
Exploring what neuroscience can — and can’t — tell us about the mind
“A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind” by Robert A. Burton

Recently, neuroscience has been lauded as the key that can unlock the brain’s secrets. In “A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind,” neurologist Robert Burton pokes holes in this belief.

Yes, Burton says, neuroscience is a powerful tool. It can reveal, for example, the parts of the brain that control sight, speech and memory. But, he writes, neuroscience can’t explain why a child misbehaves or why we fall in love, or whether a political candidate would make a good leader based on the activity of his amygdala.

The reason, he says, is that as humans we can’t be unbiased when trying to apply data about biological functions to explain such things as our emotions and behavior.

The book covers such topics as the brain’s role in “out-of-body” experiences and the lingering effects of limb amputations. It also examines the latest neurological research, which Burton argues is often overstated by the media.

“Understanding how the brain works is great for describing biological functions, but still leaves us guessing as to what is being consciously experienced,” Burton writes. “Looking at the most detailed brain scans won’t capture what we feel when we experience love or despair any more than examining the individual pixels in a Chuck Close painting will give you an overall sense of the painting.”


(A Skeptics Guide to the Mind/Kobo)
History
The 1960s, when the Space Age met the civil rights movement
“A Space Race in Black and White,” June 25 at Busboys and Poets

The early 1960s was the era of both the Space Age and the civil rights movement. How were these seminal events intertwined? Documentarians and authors Richard Paul and Steven Moss will explore this question and others at “The Space Race in Black and White,” an event organized by D.C. Science Cafe.

The discussion will focus on the Kennedy administration’s push to use federal hiring to reduce racial discrimination and how this affected workplace integration more widely.

“The Space Race in Black and White” will be held on June 25 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., at the Busboys and Poets location at Fifth and K streets in Northwest Washington.

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