Does Neuroscience Change The Way We Understand Ourselves?

As his new novel A Box of Birds launches on Unbound, novelist and psychologist Charles Fernyhough argues that fiction is an ideal medium through which to explore how neuroscience is changing the way we understand ourselves:

“I am not being critical of cognitive neuroscience research, much of which is ingenious, elegant and deeply valuable. Rather, I am questioning how we consume and respond to this new kind of knowledge. For me, the best way of exploring these reactions is through a medium that might seem to have little to do with the realities of neuroimaging head coils and 3-Tesla magnets. Writers of fiction have always been barometers of change in how humanity has understood itself. Ideas from Darwinism and Freudianism, to take two examples, quickly permeated literary fiction in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. George Eliot’s plots are ever-conscious of Darwinian scepticism about the possibility of freewill, while Freud’s theory of the unconscious had a deliciously fertile influence on modernist writers such as Joyce and Woolf. Will neuroscience permeate fiction as rapidly and pervasively? Are the barometers already twitching?”

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