Neuroscience is making bold claims about human culture—but should we trust them?
We often imagine the brain as a sort of high-powered, superbly engineered evolutionary computer. But it is actually a wonderfully baroque structure, made up of incompletely integrated units. And despite what we might assume about what we are born with, our brains are more shaped by interaction with the world than we think.
We have long tried to solve the mystery of what makes us human by looking at our heads. Franz Joseph Gall, the German physician who developed phrenology, argued that “brain organs” controlled everything from kindness, religion and the gift of music to an instinct for self-defence and the desire for reproduction. Victorian anthropologists measured the size and shape of human skulls—the unfortunate discipline of craniometry—seeking to make judgements about morals and intelligence, alongside descriptions of different races.
Read the full article on the Prospect website
See also the interesting article ‘Can modern science explain gender differences or our capacity for cruelty and kindness?’ by Mark Kohn in The Independent (1 October 2010)