In the last few weeks I have been to a number of events which explore the interaction between the brain sciences and selfhood. A few weeks ago I went to the Brains exhibition at the Wellcome collection. At the end of June I went to a daylong symposium at Birkbeck on the topic of ‘Beckett and Brain Science’ and the other day I visited the exhibition ‘Between’ in its final days at the new Inigo Rooms at King’s College London. Yesterday I also taught a session on ‘Neurology and Literature’ as part of the CHH summer school.
The Wellcome Brains exhibition explored what humans have done to and with brains over the years, and looked at different ways in which brains have been understood, interpreted and depicted. The Beckett and Brain Science event looked at ways in which Beckett’s work intersects with the brain sciences both in the period he was writing and as they develop today. This event ties into what is an emerging trend within literary criticism which sees texts increasingly being thought about in relation to neurological or neuroscientific ideas. The ‘Between’ exhibition explored the ways in which selfhood is increasingly being written into a biological and particularly neuroscientific landscape. It featured the work of artists Susan Aldworth, Andrew Carnie and Karen Ingham, all of whom worked in collaboration with the neuroscientist Richard Wingate at KCL in putting the exhibition together.
These are just the brainy events I have attended in the last month. No doubt there have been many more. Is this part of what Raymond Tallis terms ‘neuromania’ (which I have blogged about before here); do they show that neuroscience is becoming overly dominant in the way in which we think about ourselves? Or are such things steps towards an understanding of the self which is scientifically fuller and truer than any we have had before?