Upcoming talk at Worlding the Brain conference (Amsterdam)
After months and months of writing, I finally can go outside and play again! Next week, I’ll present at the wonderful Worlding the Brain conference, at the University of Amsterdam. Great interdisciplinary program, including art, tech & much more. Check the website for the full line-up. Keynotes include Felicity Callard, Vittorio Gallese, and Alva Noë.
I’m scheduled at Saturday November 4th, somwhere between 15h and 17.30h. See below for an abstract. I might present some final conclusions, as I will also finish my dissertation next week.
Living Well with a Plastic Brain: valuing neuroscience in society
Key to the spread of neuroscience knowledge from the lab to society, is the concept of brain plasticity: the ability of the brain to change its functions or structure. The notion of brain plasticity ‘opens up’ the brain for all kinds of interventions (Abi-Rached & Rose, 2013) and invites actors to do something with it, invoking specific action programs, values, and other ideas of the good. Ranging from self-help manuals, management literature and brain games, interventions based on brain plasticity address the timely ethical question of how to flourish and live well.
In this presentation, I explore the implications of brain plasticity for ideas and practices of self-fashioning and flourishing. Neurobiological self-fashioning, or neuroascesis (Ortega, 2011), appears deeply ambiguous: it turns us into both master and servant of our ever-changing brains. This ethical ambiguity allows for a multiplicity of moral and practical engagements with the brain, redrawing boundaries between what can be changed, and what should be accepted as unchangeable. I show how plasticity arguments in practice function as therapeutic arguments (Nussbaum, 1994) – combatting social maladies by manipulating the inner world – as they enable appropriators to articulate, stabilize and challenge different (and sometimes conflicting) ideas of the good. I thus argue that the therapeutic role of neuroscience knowledge in society shows in its versatility to be used as “ethics by other means”.