Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Neuroscience and Anthropology

I wish I had time to read David Eagleman's book Incognito:The Secret Lives of the Brain. I heard him speak on Fresh Air. He argues that our conscious mind only sees a small portion of what actually goes on in the brain. He notes that we can easily lift up a cup without thinking of the thousands of nerves and muscles that need to be controlled just to successfully pick up a cup. 

He also notes that our brain is made up of different parts, and that the different parts are often fighting with each other. This is true for the conscious and emotional sides, left vs. right, and more. He says we can see it in that sometimes we want to keep a secret for social reasons, but there is also a side of our brain that does not like to keep secrets, because secrets raise our level of stress.
"You have competing populations in the brain — one part that wants to tell something and one part that doesn't," he tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "And the issue is that we're always cussing at ourselves or getting angry at ourselves or cajoling ourselves. ... What we're seeing here is that there are different parts of the brain that are battling it out. And the way that that battle tips, determines your behavior."
This is interesting because Richard Wilk, in his book Economies and Cultures, has argued that “human nature” has different aspects. Contrary to the economic assumption that humans are individualistic rational maximizers, neuroscience is confirming the view that different parts of the brain operate on different principles. This is a good example of how biology and neuroscience can support long established anthropological insights. And it is an example of why anthropologists should not fear, and resist, biology.

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