Thursday, 4 March 2010

Neuroscience and utopianism

In advance of Friday’s seminar on science-fiction and utopianism, I thought it would be a good idea to research some of the recent developments in neuroscience. In essence, our understanding of human behaviour has, and will continue to be, altered as we appreciate just how our brain works. This could have some implications for utopianism - could we create a utopian society if we found a means to alter brain and thus human behaviour?

For a good introduction see the supplement in the latest edition of Prospect magazine entitled ‘The Future of the Brain’. There’s also a good article in the October 2009 edition of Prospect, by Mathew Taylor, Chief Executive of the R.S.A, on neuroscience and politics.

For a slightly dated example, you could also read Francis Fukuyama's Our Post Human Future, in which he argues that his 'End of History' thesis is undermined by developments in bio-technologies.


Sarah Rees Jones said...

This makes me think of a few things - firstly the Oxford interdisciplinary institute for the Future of Humanity (link on the blogroll). The 'posthuman' has become a popular source of criticsm recently and links very well with the reborn interest in utopianism.

The 'In The Middle' blog is run by medievalists with a particular interest in posthuman and future studies - and they have just started a new journal 'postmedieval' which you can download for free from some posts there and from the Babel site.

To link this back to what we are doing - where did I read last week the argument (made many places) that utopias always evolve to reflect current preoccupations - and the question was asked whether it is ever possible to break free of the tyranny of the present to truly imagine a radically different future? (Indeed can we ever imagine a past which is not a reflection of our own present).

Current advances in neuroscience must influence utopian writing - but I was also fascinated by the RSA suggestion, if i read this right, that the rise of antiutopianism in 20th century has led to a withering of the 'social brain'. In other words that ideas do not just reflect our interest in neuroscience but actually change our brains (and the very nature of the human). It is for this kind of reason the Babel et al argue that the humanities (all humanities) matter to our future in a fundamental and instrumental (very utopian) way.

What do you think??

Jonathan Blunden said...

Thanks Sarah.

Some of the work produced by the Oxford Institute for the future of humanity is very thought provoking.

The Social brain project via the RSA has also produced a report, again a good read.

Further to my comments in class on the infant brain, see below.