Physiological Idealism and historical neurocultures

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Theorists of contemporary neurocultures – neuroeconomics, neuroshopping, neuro-stockmarkets – often proceed as if they had never heard of the great physiological idealism of the nineteenth century. This long wave commenced in the high Enlightenment, when a revolution in thinking about the anatomical nerves got underway, blossomed during the Victorian and Bismarckian period, and continued into the twentieth century. But socio-political developments – German militarism, the Great War, Crash of 1929, American Depression of the 1930s, Holocaust – tumbled whatever persuasion it retained. Set chronological dials to the aftermath of the Second World War, and physiological idealism is no longer capable of spinning its yarns without the challenges of all sorts of  historical constructionists demanding more context, more socio-political culture, more psychology of the masses. More than blind physiological idealism.

In the intervening two generations since the 1950s something else has also subverted this idealism. As neurocultures have continued to burgeon, so too has a counter-culture fiercely pitted against the notion of mechanical human beings. Cults of spiritualism, especially to the east and west of Europe, celebrate man’s potential for spiritual growth. Waves of religious rebirth, also east and west of Europe, reassert themselves, often in fundamentalist  forms. Popular philosophical and metaphysical doctrines circulate trouncing neuroidealism – especially neurophysiological idealism – which seems to reduce ordinary men and women to mechanical objects. The message is that stressed-out modern folk need anything but more neurophysiology.

Yet cutting-edge neuroscientists continue their laboratory brain localizations, lending an impression that breakthroughs in the understanding of  consciousness can only arrive this way. The message? Down with popular subversion of neurophysiological idealism. The further message that ‘mind-stuff’ is synonymous with computer-based brain localization, and that physiological idealism is far from dead. It has been repackaged together with the irresistible new digital technology: a global force enhancing neurocultures.

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