Research

Neuroscience or neuromania?

Are we off our heads? 

The rise of neuroscience as a topic of interest within the market research industry has been nothing short of astonishing. Advocates of neuroscience have promised much; the world of meaning, and truth, laid bare for all to see.  All that is needed is fmri technology, or similar, and the inner truths of human cognition and consciousness are within our grasp.

Excuse us (sharp intake of breath….); the last time we checked, we were not our brains.  No one with any sense would argue against the importance of the brain, but it is ‘just’ one important part in a more extensive bundle of factors and faculties that enable us to make sense of the world.  Avoiding the slide from neuroscience to ‘neuromania’ is important if we are to avoid cul-de-sacs and fallacies.

The danger with any ‘mania’ is that we try very hard to prove that it is right without pausing to take stock of the fact that it may be wrong, or at least incomplete. The science underpinning ‘neuromania’ is undoubtedly step changing; but we need to ask ‘in what context’ and ‘for what purpose’.  For example, one of our Truth people had a serious neck injury and fmri technology helped identify the problem in a way that would have been impossible even a decade ago.  But a technology that relies on lying perfectly still in a resonating chamber for twenty minutes has its limitations.  In a brain where there are many millions of live ‘signals’ at any one moment in time, an fmri scan is the equivalent of bolting the stable door after every horse in the universe has left home, got a job, retired and begun contemplating whether an afterlife exists.  Broken necks sit still for twenty minutes.  Meaningful brain function doesn’t.  So even if we were our brains, our current methods of capture remain antiquated.

But we are not our brains. As human beings we are embedded in, first and foremost, a body.  These bodies of ours have multiple functions and multiple ‘touchpoints’ through which they engage with the world ‘out there’.  Arguably, we make sense of the world through our bodies as much as through our brains.  As human beings, we are constantly making sense and generating meaning by engaging with an external world of people, objects and pre-existing structures of meaning. ‘We’ are as much a creation of a tangible ‘world out there’ as we are a product of our brains.  To be continued…….watch this space!