For much of human history, the source of human intelligence and individual character was thought to have been the heart, the liver, or the spleen—not the brain. Before and after the mind was linked to the brain, the supposed significance of the organ has shaped how it is represented—both as a body part and as the locus of the self. Images of the brain have for the most part been, and still are, speculative, thanks to the opaque relationship between the organ and its functions. The subjective experience of consciousness—dynamic, diachronic and synchronic—cannot readily be transposed onto the brain’s physiology. The kidney, by contrast, filters and secretes a fluid with properties that can be correlated and classified according to smell, color, and sedimentation, leaving traces of a time-based process with a clear beginning and end. Diagnosis from urine, practiced for many centuries, is a deductive process based on the commonsensical intelligibility of this process: intake, excretion, repeat. We tend to think of contemporary, digital images of the brain—the beguiling, arresting concoctions derived from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machines—as evidence of “activity,” regardless of the complicated mathematical operations involved in their production. We encounter them in reports about “your brain on poker” or “your brain on sex.” The use of brain scans to trumpet what are often insignificant and sensational studies has demystified the discipline and helped provoke a backlash against so-called neurophrenology, and against the use of neuroscience as an explanatory panacea.
more from Isabelle Moffat at Triple Canopy here.