Book Summaries: The Remaining 2^2*13 Items from My Brain List

In continuation of the first 27, here are the remaining 52 items of my “History of the Skull, Mind, and Brain Sciences” reading list with John Tresch. It’s a lot of stuff, and I have no idea how he and I shall have a conversation about all of these in a 60- to 90-minute Skype session tomorrow evening, when I’ll already be brain-dead from sitting and working in window-less rooms for hours. But I guess I will be flexible or, better, creatively plastic, and figure out a way to mold or not mold myself to the crazy demands of being a grad student shortly before “orals.” (Less than 4 weeks left!) Continue reading

Can Brain Science Help Resolve Social Problems and Political Conflicts?

Here is a very insightful piece published a few days ago in the New York Times. It asks the question of whether brain science “Can … Be Dangerous” if it is the (only) basis on which authorities make decisions about social policies.

Using neuroscience to determine the prospective success of interventions aiming at resolving social problems is also closely linked to a Brown Bag Lunch at the CNS I attended last week: Emile Bruneau spoke about “Putting Neuroscience to Work for Peace” in political conflicts. His research on the neuroscientific correlates of biases, irrationality, and related psychological impediments to peaceful coexistence is inspired by his personal experiences with intergroup conflicts. You can download my summary of his talk here.

What Kind of Sex Do We Need in Neuroimaging?

(”Like Dancers in a Line” by Viewminder, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Four members of the NeuroGenderings network, Gina Rippon, Rebecca Jordan-Young, Anelis Kaiser, and Cordelia Fine, recently published a fabulous piece on “Recommendations for Sex/Gender Neuroimaging Research: Key Principles and Implications for Research Design, Analysis, and Interpretation” in Frontiers of Human Neuroscience.

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NeuroGenderings III: So Many Women Saying Smart Things in a Conference Room

From May 8–10, 2014, more than a hundred students and scholars from the neurosciences, social sciences, and the humanities convened at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, for the NeuroGenderings III conference. The organizers Cynthia Kraus (University of Lausanne) and Anelis Kaiser (University of Bern) titled this meeting the “1st international Dissensus Conference on brain and gender.” 14 papers by scholars at different career stages, mainly from Europe and the US, provided examples of successful sex/gender-sensitive brain research and addressed problematic neuroscientific concepts and practices from feminist and queer perspectives. The four keynote speakers illustrate the diversity of approaches: Rebecca Jordan-Young (Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies, Barnard College), Gillian Einstein (Social & Behavioural Health Sciences, University of Toronto), Georgina Rippon (Psychology, Aston University), and Anne Fausto-Sterling (Molecular Biology, Cell Biology & Biochemistry and Gender Studies, Brown University). Papers were selected by the NeuroGenderings Network, a non-institutionalized interdisciplinary group of scholars, which was founded in 2010 to offer a platform for exchanging best practice models for and reservations against sex/gender research in the neuroscientific realm. All attendees consented that dissenting from unquestioned concepts and practices in brain research can benefit both our neuroscientific knowledge and our social life. Continue reading

Somebody Help Us Explain What Embedded Statistical Technologies Achieve in fMRI Research

I promised to write more about my thoughts on how the question of what software is—and does—relates to fMRI research. Tonight seems the perfect time to do so, as I just received feedback on my paper proposal. Besides that, my calendar tells me that the following days got assigned to other projects of mine, so I’d better use this rainy night to share my ideas with you. (I divided the remaining days between the three final written assignments for this term; and, as a colleague told me yesterday, I did so in a stereotypically German manner of accuracy.) Continue reading

Why an fMRI Scanner Can’t Answer the Neuroscientist’s Question

This week’s Monday Workshop featured Ann Johnson and her stimulating presentation “Code is Fluid: Mapping the Circulation of Computational Fluid Dynamics Among Knowledge Communities.” As one might assume, she introduced her concept of “Knowledge Communities” (KCs) through a case study on computational fluid dynamics (CFD). Her fascinating integration of history and philosophy of science is methodologically of great interest to anybody studying the neurosciences (and so much more), and with regard to content, it is the computational part (software, models and animations) which struck me as relevant to my project. Continue reading

M.A. Thesis: Functional Magnetic Resonance Phrenology?

In the process of revising a paper on F.J. Gall’s conception of sex/gender and the status of sexuality in his so-called organological doctrine, I reread two German articles by Frank Stahnisch (who is a great scholar and an incredibly helpful person): “Über die Natur des weiblichen Gehirns” and “Über die neuronale Natur des Weiblichen.”1 I was reminded how beautiful it is to read—and write—German texts.2 Apart from very few long emails, the last substantial thing I have written in the tongue of the umlauts is my M.A. thesis. I won’t publish it, but it seems a shame not to make it accessible. I included an English description of its argument in my very first blog post. Continue reading

Inspired Part 4: Tools vs. Machines—A Helpful Distinction?

One last—and regarding further work maybe even the most important—in this season of posts inspired by recent exposure to John Tresch’s The Romantic Machine deals with fMRIs in a rather broad sense: Even though Tresch does not write much about sciences of the brain, his reflections on human-technological alliances and their transformative potential add a lot to my interest in putting people in numbers and negotiating the measures between domains. Categorizing humans according to bodily and mental measures and personal characteristics by making use of devices of any sort is part of the attempt to inform contemporary policies and improve—or justify—social realities and political economy. Continue reading

Inspired Part 2: Are Imaging Technologies Enslaving because They Have Lost Their Romantic Ambiguity?

I promised to share more thoughts on Tresch’s fabulous work and Vinsel’s inspiring blog series. One topic that keeps coming up is the distinction between “tools” and “machines.” I am not sure if pursuing this road will lead to any illuminating insight, but since it keeps occupying my thoughts and is so well in line with what is happening in the realm of neuroscientific imaging technologies, I thought I’d give it some more consideration. Continue reading