Popping the Neuroscience Bubble.

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Yes, that’s what I said. The bubble.

So much more than a brain.

For those of us in the psychology/coaching industry, ‘Neuroscience’ is a great word to use if you want to flag up to the world that you’re ‘up there’ with the best, your particular training is authentic or you just want to sound good. You won’t find a self-respecting learning and development company that hasn’t slotted the word into some paragraph or other in their marketing, indicating that they are ‘neuroscience based’.  And as expected, all the current psychology programmes on the radio and TV here in the UK are climbing onto the band-wagon, with the media chanting the NS mantra day in, day out. If you check out our site, www.powerchange.com, we do it too. For how much longer I’m not sure, and here’s the reason…

Words and phrases become devalued by over-use. Stick ‘neuroscience’ on everything and just like printing money against finite resources, each note becomes worth less. Even the word ‘science’ has lost its meaning today, with so called discoveries being reported in hyped language and headlines that bear little resemblance to the down-to-earth, unspectacular slog of the reality. Science has come to mean something other than pure ‘knowledge’, and whilst I love the energy and intrigue of current explorations in human behaviour and its links with our brains, I’m growing nervous about how it is misused – sometimes with the deliberate intention to deceive.

DH Lawrence has a character who talks of “ready-made words and phrases sucking all the life-blood out of living things”, and here we have a similar thing happening. Outrageous claims for what neuroscience ‘proves’ might grab headlines and find their way onto the news channels, but bear little resemblance to the reality. Often they are simply verbal garbage, unwarranted speculative statements that at the best entertain and at the worst are deliberately misleading. Lawrence was no neuroscientist, but he knew that living things bear no comparison to the words and phrases used to describe them – even when the intention is well-meaning.

‘Scientists’ involved in brain research are men and women just like you and me.  They have their philosophical positions, have secret motivators that drive their behaviour that even they don’t know about. They have their bosses to please, their academic peers to impress and their children to feed. The temptation to over-egg the cake can for some be irresistible, especially when departmental funding worth millions is at stake. And that applies to the media too. Their jobs depend on oversimplification for easy assimilation by their readers and attention-grabbing headlines (which incidentally, are usually written by someone else) so they sell more papers for their advertisers.

So what about Powerchange’s ‘take’ on brain science and the like? Well, I’m currently thinking and reading on how the neural networks in the brain detect integrity; how the connections between all our little brains with their untold myriads of connections – all 100,000 billion billion of them across the world – work as one brain (see my blog on Community Brain Theory); how the molecule-sized proteins that trigger the opening and closing of billions of ion channels can ‘tell’ the difference between miniscule various micro-indicators signalled by someone else’s neural networks on Skype in real time, and in a tiny fraction of a second cause you to change your mind (whatever that is), and as a result, your entire future.

In other words the more I learn about neuroscience through reading papers, books and articles and observing what goes on in the evident transformations of my clients (and I have no illusions about how little that is) the more chillingly humbled I’ve felt. We can only stand in awed silence and with our heads bowed as we examine ‘through a glass darkly’ the tiniest scrap of the undiscovered vast immeasurable universe within each of our skulls.

As I consider the whole body of knowledge contributed by hundreds of thousands of neuroscientists across the world over the last century or so, I am coming to realise it doesn’t even equate to the dust on the scales.  The truth is, when it comes to neuroscience we have barely even started. It’s worth remembering that.

I love real science and discovering new things, but all too often the speculative ready-made words and phrases of the tens of the thousands of research papers are doing no more than sucking the life-blood out of an incomprehendably beautiful and very living thing.  Your brain.

Look after it.

3 thoughts on “Popping the Neuroscience Bubble.”

  1. Being responsible for developing managerial skills in a medium sized company many years ago I remember how the managers would pick up a “buzz word” and try to run with it as if it were going to dice, slice, make the bed, produce the product and bring them their favorite pizza and a drink. I would call it a “seminar high” whenever I taught a class, or we went to a seminar, We set it up so that we were not allowed to do anything with that information for at least 2 weeks because of the cheapening effect it had on the entire organization when managers come back enraptured with an idea only to find out there is no shortchanging long term disciplines for a vapor handy dandy panacea.

  2. Thanks for that – yes, I so agree. The coaching world has a lot of buzz words, as other fields do too – and I’m very good at creating them myself! They are there to encapsulate a new concept or a nuance of an existing one. It’s ok as long as they have some rich meaning, but often they cheapen. Some NEED creating, though. I’m just about to write a blog on one.

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