Beyond Phrenology

Beyond Phrenology

Let’s Look at How the Brain Really Works

By Mary Sykes Wylie

January/February 2014

Brain science may be all the rage among psychotherapists, but that doesn’t mean most psychotherapists actually know much about it. And yet, who hasn’t fallen prey to the seductions of what might be called the new phrenology—the assignment of emotional or relational problems in clients to particular brain regions or functions, often with implausible, if not laughable, results?

In the world of pop neuroscience, it all seems fairly simple. The left hemisphere is the seat of logic and analysis, and the right hemisphere is where the brain stores intuition and artistic creativity. Fear and anger lurk in the amygdala like brother ogres brooding in a deep cave, memory lives in the hippocampus, and empathy comes from mirror neurons that somehow “see” and “get” the signals other people send. Low serotonin “causes” depression, while dopamine is a pleasure chemical, and oxytocin is the brain’s own love potion.

But, in reality, the brain isn’t just a storehouse full of discrete modules and chemicals with complicated names, each precipitating a particular function, feeling, or process. Just about every mental function, from doing a simple arithmetic problem to experiencing transcendent feelings of love or spirituality, results from external stimuli and a vast range of neural activities and connections, drawing on many brain regions interacting with each other—systems within systems. In fact, most mental functions involve many regions of the brain performing a variety of…

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Friday, February 7, 2014 5:04:58 PM | posted by Beatrice Scarlata
Fabulous article! Incredible issue!! Every article from beginning to end is not only extremely timely and well thought out, but 5 star caliber!!! I can't thank you and your staff enough for all your efforts on our behalf.
Sincerely yours,
Bea Scarlata, MA, LPC
EMDR Certified
Brentwood, TN

Sunday, February 2, 2014 3:24:58 AM | posted by Theodore Hoppe
Let's face facts here, Mary Sykes Wylie knows little or nothing about neuroscience if wants to suggest that neuroscience, which she disdainfully refers to as "brain science," is the new Phrenology, and therein lies the problem; unlike psychology, neuroscience is actually a science.
My suggestion is that you skip this article in favor of the many other here that treat the subject with some respect, such as Rich Hanson's, who unfortunately uses "brain science" in its title (what's with you people?). As he correctly points out, "Obama has just pledged $3 billion—a billion per brain pound!—toward what amounts to another brain decade, a 10-year project that would, as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Technology Review modestly describes it, “reconstruct the activity of every single neuron as they fire simultaneously in different brain circuits, or perhaps even whole brains.”
Let's get with the program.