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Re: [xmca] Plasticity and Physiotherapy

Not so much "adherence to an ethics" as the living of an ethos - in Foucault's sense (the research seems to have been directed by Paul Rabinow, who had much contact with Foucault over the years). I think part of Rees' argument is that the resistance of a science to change is that what would need to be changed is not just a body of ideas or a theory, but a way of living, which in the case of traditional neuroscience had a certain heroic quality to it. An emphasis on "project" or "activity" does not seem to get at this level of existence, which operates with something more profound than beliefs, norms, or propositions.


On Jun 26, 2012, at 2:00 AM, Andy Blunden wrote:

> 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, ...
> Andy
> 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
>> efein@sociabilitychicago.org
>> ---- Original message ----
>>> Date: Mon, 25 Jun 2012 12:44:10 +1000
>>> From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu (on behalf of Andy Blunden     
>> <ablunden@mira.net>)
>>> Subject: [xmca] Plasticity and Physiotherapy  To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
>>> On the theme of empirical evidence and the latest discoveries     
>> of   
>>> 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     
>> physical   
>>> 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     
>> mystery   
>>> (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     
>> equipment,   
>>> 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     
>> because   
>>> (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
>>> -- 
>>> -------------------------------------------------------------
>> -----------
>>> *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
>>> __________________________________________
>>> _____
>>> xmca mailing list
>>> xmca@weber.ucsd.edu
>>> http://dss.ucsd.edu/mailman/listinfo/xmca
> -- 
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> *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
> __________________________________________
> _____
> xmca mailing list
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