By Michael Corballis 03/11/2015 2


Neurobollocks may be the new psychobabble

The prefix “neuro” refers to the nerves, especially in relation to the most complex bundle of nerves of all—no, not a rugby coach, but the brain. So we have such disciplines as neurology, neurosurgery, neurobiology, neurochemistry, neurophysiology, neurophysics, along with countless specialty terms such as neuroblast, neuroendocrine, neuroglia, neurofibril, neuroma, neuron, neuropeptide … (check any good dictionary) and more recently neuroscience. As scientists began to appreciate the links between brain and mind, we find neuropsychiatry and neuropsychology, and for some psychologists who have perhaps sought to differentiate themselves, cognitive neuroscience. That’s me, I suppose. So far, all is reasonably well contained, although neurophilosophy may strain the little grey cells a bit, boggling the brain.

The affixation of “neuro” may seem to lend an air of solidity to areas that may seem insubstantial or ethereal, and so has reached out its tendrils to many hitherto bloodless, not to say mindless, domains. One of the first to attract “neuro” into murkier territory was neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), a form of psychotherapy or personal development that emerged in the 1970s, but actually has nothing to do either  with the rather respectable discipline of neurolinguistics or with programming. NLP is now seen to have retreated to where it belongs, in the category of folk magic or New Age psycho-religion. It has, I think, had its day—although I know there will be some who will castigate me for saying so.

“One big fat hoax”

Since then, “neuro” has attached itself in virus-like fashion to even more diverse worlds. We have neuroeconomics, neurofinance, neuromarketing, and even neuroadvertising, as though to discover the world of business in the brain. Neuroeconomics has been described by one observer, in marketwatch.com, as “one big fat hoax.” In education, neuroeducation seems to be gaining some momentum, perhaps as a counter to the common opinion in education that learning and reading disabilities are not of neurological origin, but can be resolved through purely educational or learning-based techniques.

Neuroaesthetics attempts to find out, through brain imaging, how the brain makes aesthetic judgments, and senses what is beautiful and pleasing from what is not. I must say the brain images themselves can be rather pleasing, but I’m not so sure what they tell us much about aesthetic experience itself. While this has generally been applied to visual art, the term neuromusicology seems to be gaining popularity, often in the context of using music as a form of therapy. Neurosculpture is there too, seemingly to do with making sculptures based on the brain and its physical contents–neurons and cells. One practitioner is quoted as saying “I love to make sculptures because it allows me to experience the neurobiological processes I’ve studied by creating something with my own hands. I start off in science to get my basic conception and then move into aesthetics.” There’s also neuropoetry, described in one entry as “learning to do small things with great love.”

Neurocreativity?

Neurohistory was coined in 2008 by the Harvard professor Daniel Lord Smail in his book On Deep History and the Brain, and Google now tells me of the birth of a new discipline called neuroreligion. I believe there’s a group called Neurogod, or perhaps it’s just a person. I don’t think He, She, or They sing neurohymns, but you could check at http://www.last.fm/music/Neurogod.

For the neuroambitious (yes, even that’s out there, @NeuroAmbition), there seems almost no further room for neurocreativity (@neuro creativity). In a search of Google, I could find virtually no field or foible that has escaped. I found neuroarcheology, neuroarchitecture, neuroathletics, NeuroChess, neurocriminology, neurocriticism, neurogolf, neurogym, neurohope, neuro-jeopardy, neuropolitics, neurosport, neurotalk, neurowise, neurowonderful, even neurofailure. You can don neurowear for an “augmented human body.” Neurobollocks itself is there already (@neurobollocks), sometimes as neuroflapdoodle or neurobullshit. I couldn’t find neurorugby, but the moment for it may have passed.

Oh, and there’s neuroplasticity, but don’t get me started on that … yet.


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