Why a Neurosocieties Group?
In the last two decades the neurosciences have become a highly prestigious and influential force in contemporary societies. The neurosciences are championed as a potential source of new insights into ‘that which makes us human’, and neuroscientific explanations of behaviour and personhood often appear to hold considerable authoritative weight. There are also widely-held expectations that the neurosciences will generate insights into brain-functioning and pathology that will eventually lead to much-needed clinical therapies for a range of debilitating neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimers, and Multiple Scleroses. In this vein, vast financial resources have been invested in the brain sciences. Examples of this include European Union’s Human Brain Project, which is receiving over one billion in Euros in Funding, and the US’s multibillion dollar BRAIN Initiative. These developments have also been accompanied by an apparent fascination with brain images and brain-based explanations in popular culture: MRI and PET images of the brain have become common place in popular media forms.
The rising influence of the neurosciences and the significant symbolic and financial resources invested within them raise a number of pressing issues for social scientists, ethicists and policy makers. These include:
- How much influence do brain-based explanations of personhood, health and behaviour have in contemporary communities, and how do they align and conflict with other ways of making sense of personhood?
- What new social forms (groups, associations, biosocial communities) are emerging in response to the rising prestige of neurosciences?
- How do we responsibly manage the tension between the great promise surround the neurosciences, and the need to carefully manage the expectations of patients, families and carers?
- What role can patients, families and carers have in guiding innovation practices in the neurosciences? and
- More generally, how do we ensure that innovation within the neurosciences aligns with the values of society, and is directed towards genuine societal need?
The aim of the Neurosocieties Group is to provide a multidisciplinary forum for interrogating these issues and themes, and to stay attentive to other tensions that may arise as the neurosciences continue to unfold.
Additionally, the Group is also interested in exploring the epistemological dimensions of the neurosciences, and the ethical implications of emerging theorisations about the brain, perception and enculturation. Recent developments within the neurosciences – particularly the emerging interest in culture and its influence in shaping brain structures – have created new opportunities for productive engagement between neuroscience, social science and ethics. Accordingly, members of the group (which includes neuroanthropologists) have an interest in exploring:
- How might we conceptualise the relationship between brain, body and environment?
- How might recent insights in the neurosciences challenge our understandings of agency and moral responsibility?
- What affordances are offered by different philosophical perspectives on the brain, personhood and culture?
Aims of the Neurosocieties Group
The principal aim of the Neurosocieties Group is to provide an interdisciplinary forum for exploring the social, cultural and ethical dimensions of the brain, the neurosciences, and neurological illnesses. It represents and platform for bringing together researchers from various faculties within Monash University with an interest in ‘the neuro’. In doing this, the Group aims:
- To foster interdisciplinary collaborations, particularly between neuroscientists and social scientists;
- To create ideas for, and opportunities for, new empirical and theoretical research projects, and to secure appropriate funding to conduct these projects;
- To provide opportunities for publication in both academic and popular formats; and
Ultimately, to generate novel insights into the relationships between the brain, the body, personhood and culture