Neurosociety Conference Unhistoricized

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I’m in Oxford at the Said Business School Conference on ‘Neurosociety’ where daily sessions are taking place¬† on neurobiology, neuroconsciousness, neuroeconomics, neuroimaging, neuromarketing, neuroeverything documenting our multiple neurofutures. One plenary address by a distinguished philosopher is titled: ‘Who do you think you are? Managing personhood in a neurobiological age’. But when someone asks him a question about loneliness and friendship in the Age of Facebook he has no reply. The prospect of all these neurofutures is daunting, but neurosociety as a pondered category only intermittently appears. The networks of Facebook: where are you for all your massive social implication?

The approach disappoints in at least three ways. First, because the collective conference illusion is that these topics are well-understood today – hence ‘scientific’ – but they are not. Second, because the alternatives never get mentioned – the many anti-neurofutures we might¬† potentially have. Third, but not last, in their lack of historicization. The question how did we arrive at this point never arises – and it almost appears impertinent to ask it. Historians know that by 1800, as I mentioned in my last posting, a type of microcosmic neurosociety had begun to develop in Edinburgh, capital of the Scottish Enlightenment, whose tentacles stretched widely on the European Continent. But the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have dropped off the map in this Conference. Cutting-edge technology demands that everything must be instant – so mention 1999 here, and you may as well be speaking of Herodotus.

The message I am taking home is that neurosociety is a metonymy for the collective of virtual personhood, and that the neurofutures awaiting us amount to ever-more virtual realism run amok. To say that virtual technology has replaced personhood is an understatement. ‘Managing personhood’ now amounts, almost entirely, to managing virtual personhood.

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