What’s Wrong With ‘Neurobabble’?

We know that irrelevant neuroscience jargon increases the persuasiveness of arguments, but why is the current trend of finding a neural explanation for much of human behaviour a dangerous thing?

In his warning against reductionism and trusting in neural explanations for largely psychological phenomena, Tyler Burge, Professor of Philosophy at UCLA, describes the three things wrong with “neurobabble” (emphasis mine):

First, it provides little insight into psychological phenomena.  Often the discoveries amount to finding stronger activation in some area of the brain when a psychological phenomenon occurs.  As if it is news that the brain is not dormant during psychological activity! […] Experiments have shown that neurobabble produces the illusion of understanding.  But little of it is sufficiently detailed to aid, much less provide, psychological explanation.

Second, brains-in-love talk conflates levels of explanation.  Neurobabble piques interest in science, but obscures how science works.  Individuals see, know, and want to make love.  Brains don’t.  Those things are psychological — not, in any evident way, neural.  Brain activity is necessary for psychological phenomena, but its relation to them is complex. […]

The third thing wrong with neurobabble is that it has pernicious feedback effects on science itself.  Too much immature science has received massive funding, on the assumption that it illuminates psychology.  The idea that the neural can replace the psychological is the same idea that led to thinking that all psychological ills can be cured with drugs.

via @mocost