Consumer & Behavioral Neuroscience

Recommended reading: Does Neuroscience need a Newton?

Recommended reading: Does Neuroscience need a Newton?

Neuroscience: it’s complicated.

I personally think such a concept is impossible. Physics, math, these are simple, elegant fields. When it comes down to the very basics in physics and math, particles, if they behave in one way under certain conditions, will always behave that way. A mathematical formula that works once will always work again. At the basis of physics and math, there are unifying ideas and theories that will persist. There are basic principles. But neuroscience is not so elegant. There are basic principles, of course, but they cannot be scaled up. A neurotransmitter may always act on one type of receptor, but how much neurotransmitter is there? How many receptors? What neurons are the receptors on? How many? What types of neurons? Where do they go? Where do the neurons that those neurons contact go? Who do they contact before they get there? Have the receptors themselves been changed or desensitized or understimulated? Change one or a few of these variables, and it’s simple. But change all of them. Every single time. For every single connection.

Exactly.  And it’s something I’ve always had stress in my interactions with friends and family or at work. It’s not so simple.  It’s not like physics or math or even medicine.  Our brains are very complicated machines.  And with such machinery in such a small space, many things overlap and have double, triple and more duty.

For example, take feeding.  The public and the industry want a magic bullet that will cure obesity.  A pill that will keep you from overeating.  But it’s just not that simple.  Eating is necessary for survival. And so the main goal of nearly every cell in your body is to ensure that you are taking in enough energy to survive.  So even when neurobehavioral geneticists knock-out a gene related to eating, we continue to eat.  Why?  Because the system is redundant to ensure survival.  The more you knock-out, the more will step up to replace it.  Even such a basic behavior is not so simple.  And that knockout work is just with animal models where psychology may play less of a role than in humans (we think way too much!).

But of course, catchy headlines bring in more readers… or for those in industry, more marketing buy-in… or for academia, more grants or publications. But as I wrote about in last week’s The Problem with Pseudoscience, we are at risk of doing real damage to the belief in neuroscience as a real  and trustworthy science.

Neuroscience is part biology, physiology, chemistry and psychology.

Status: It’s complicated.


3 comments on “Recommended reading: Does Neuroscience need a Newton?

  1. Stacie
    December 4, 2012

    Well said!

  2. jaksichja
    December 4, 2012

    You bring up excellent points, and I enjoyed reading your post.

    In my own little perspective of the world, there are many times when I hope for a better culture and more humane approach to treating society’s ills. Currently, I gather there are only a handful of ways in which fields of brain-science may be able to address them. Among them would be (?) the allied fields of therapy, pill-pushing by MD’s, in vivo imaging, and post-mortem studies of the brain. Although none of the above mentioned, seems to be exact, Each time I hear of an advance or a significant finding–e.g Einstein’s brain seemed to be rather different in “positive” manner, My spirit is buoyed to the extent that I know evolutionary processes may eventually save “us” from ourselves.

    Through (?) unknown genetic processes, I believe we may be hard-wired to evolve to a more humane existence.

    The thorny issues which you cite make me believe that in a “goodness” to humanity–and it might not always be quantified.

    Best regards

    • nerdoscientist
      December 4, 2012

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.
      I think the important thing is to think critically when reading any neuroscience news. And yes, hopefully things can only get better.

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