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Critical Neuroscience: The context and implications of human brain research

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This Research Topic seeks to address the visions and challenges surrounding new grand-scale initiatives in neuroscience — including the EU-funded Human Brain Project and a comparable initiative planned in the U.S. — the scope and ambitions of which have been compared to the Human Genome Project. Achieving ...

This Research Topic seeks to address the visions and challenges surrounding new grand-scale initiatives in neuroscience — including the EU-funded Human Brain Project and a comparable initiative planned in the U.S. — the scope and ambitions of which have been compared to the Human Genome Project. Achieving this level of acclaim and public support is a huge success for the field of human neuroscience. However, recently, subfields of neuroscience have been subject to intense scrutiny by researchers with various backgrounds. Critics have argued that the enormous amounts of neuroimaging data have been under-theorized, over-hyped and that the potential of brain imaging technologies to solve problems of behavior and illness has been vastly oversold. Others have cautioned that the extraordinary weight given to current neuroscience in understanding human suffering, and human nature itself, prematurely sidelines the social, cultural and political dimensions of the person and society. Others still have begun to ask critical questions about neuroscience’s increasing reach outside the lab and into the humanities as seen by the emergence of new hybrid fields such as neuro-aesthetics, neuro-theology or neuro-education. In sum, these skeptics highlight a perceived mismatch between the rhetoric of success and the reality of actual advances in the understanding of the human mind.

Critical neuroscience is an approach that addresses these contested issues surrounding the field of cognitive neuroscience from multiple viewpoints. The aim is to engage neuroscientists with researchers in the humanities and social sciences who deal with the implications of brain-based approaches to fields such as education, law, medicine, social policy, business and with the expansion of neuroscience in the University more broadly. Critical neuroscience encourages collaborative approaches to careful assessments of the status quo, longer-term impacts, potentials and problems of cognitive neuroscience within the laboratory and in the various areas of application. The project has been analyzing methods, technologies and theoretical paradigms, while also drawing on history and philosophy of science, anthropology, sociology and cultural studies, and reaching out to include practitioners from medicine, social policy, counseling and science journalism in order to better understand whether and how neuroscience could have value for these other domains.

For this Research Topic, we welcome researchers from these fields to contribute work in all areas of critical neuroscience. Issues to be addressed could include answers to the following questions: Can an interdisciplinary neuroscience informed by research in the humanities deliver on the promises articulated by large-scale agendas that seek to “transform” medicine and “revolutionize” our understanding of ourselves? What are the primary challenges to this ambitious agenda? What are the chief technical, methodological and theoretical challenges in cognitive neuroscience for the next decade, and what are the most promising ways to address them? What could we learn from the outcomes of the Human Genome Project? Will neuroimaging continue to be the method of choice in cognitive neuroscience? We encourage experimentalists at the core of the field as much as historians of science, STS scholars and philosophers to contribute. We especially welcome contributions co-authored by scholars from different fields.


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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