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Re: [xmca] Plasticity and Physiotherapy

The article by Tobias Rees which Elizabeth forwarded is very interesting. It looks at the proposition that adhering to a theory of neuroscience implies adherence to an ethic. Presumably any science. Einstein spent more time advocating for World Government than he did advocating for a Unified Theory of Physics. But I am still not satisfied that I understand where this blindness to alternative theories came from and I think Activity Theory is an approach which can help us here. Rees tell us:

   "the various imaging techniques at the core of cognitive
   neuroscience—essentially a fusion of cognitive psychology and
   neurobiology—are all grounded in the assumption that the brain is
   divided into discrete, function-specific regions that are made up of
   function-specific synaptic circuits. For this focus to be
   meaningful, one has to presuppose what all of neuroscience
   presupposed throughout the 20th century: (1) that the brain is a
   fully developed and, hence, fixed and immutable structure; (2) that
   this structure is organized in (of course, equally immutable)
   function-specific circuits; (3) that synapses—given that the rest of
   the structure does not change its form—are its main functional
   elements; and (4) that the language of the brain—be it chemical,
   electrical, or genetic—is machinelike." (p. 155)

So the implication is that the idea of an unchanging brain was necessary to make sense of a whole set of practices by means of which the brain was investigated. Mmebership of that project entailed accepting the division of labour entailed by the idea of brain-as-machine. With the contrary hypothesis, an investigator would not know where to file their results, so to speak. I am still not sure that this explains the hypothesis.

The second question though is: why and how could those studying the brain be so blind to well-known facts that made it obvious that the brain was a changing, growing, self-healing, learning developing organism just like the thinking human being whose functioning it underlay?

I credit Yrjo Engestrom for reminding us that what he calls a "system of activity" or what I call a project entails not only a common object, but also norms and rules, norms of belief, semantic norms and practical norms. Being part of a project evidently makes one utterly immune to any proposition calling the raison d'etre and modus operandi ('csure the Latin) of your project, just as it rules out behaving "inappropriately" or using words in ways that do not fit into the semantic norms of the project.

It is just that it can be quite startling how strong these taboos are: witness the holocaust, mass death through asbestos, all the wars of history, ...

Elizabeth Fein wrote:
Tobias Rees has a wonderful article in American Ethnologist ("Being Neurologically Human Today: Life and Science and Adult Cerebral Plasticity - An Ethical Analysis" Volume 37, Issue 1, pages 150–166) that talks about the "regime of fixity" in neuroscience, and the way this story of the brain has been maintained over the years and is now being challenged.
Elizabeth Fein, Ph.D.
University of Chicago
Department of Comparative Human Development
Postdoctoral Fellow, SociAbility (847)559-3240

---- Original message ----
Date: Mon, 25 Jun 2012 12:44:10 +1000
From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu (on behalf of Andy Blunden
Subject: [xmca] Plasticity and Physiotherapy To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>

On the theme of empirical evidence and the latest discoveries
neuroscience, this is one which has intrigued me, especially
since it
became personal. So far as I know, physiotherpists have known
for at
least two generations that brain damage can be repaired by
exercise. But this scientific, empirical knowledge,
coexisted, at least
in some countries, with a dogma taught in school biology
classes, that
"no new brain cells are created after age X," making a total
(SFAICS) of all manner of learning processes which everyone
knows about >from daily experience. Then we hear from the tribunes of advanced
neuroscience, armed with all sorts of advanced brain imaging
about "brain plasiticity" and what lowly physiotherpists know
about with
their own hands and patients knew about with their own
experience of
rehabilitation, became a new scientific discovery solely
(SAFAICS) it was expressed in the language of "the latest
discoveries of
neuroscience." On the plus side Norman Doigue's campaign has
had a
psychological impact on people undergoing rehabilitation, by
giving the
stamp of neuroscientific approval to the physiotherapists'
work and
giving renewed hope.

Is there anyone who knows about the history of science in
this area that
can explain how this fiction was maintained?

*Andy Blunden*
Joint Editor MCA: http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/hmca20/18/1
Home Page: http://home.mira.net/~andy/
Book: http://www.brill.nl/concepts

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*Andy Blunden*
Joint Editor MCA: http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/hmca20/18/1
Home Page: http://home.mira.net/~andy/
Book: http://www.brill.nl/concepts

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