My mind has such wonderful qualities, and I am just beginning to feel its potential. Yet when I reflect on the images given to us by neuroscience, I am perplexed. The language of neuroscience seems totally inadequate to describe what I actually experience. I realize that the images are generated using actual data, and yet they do not co-relate in any obvious way with my own internal experiences.
The difficulty becomes even more pronounced when I experience poetry or art. The gestures and forms of my mental activity in no way relate to the spidery motifs that propagate in neuroscience imagery. Anyone who pays even cursory attention to to their own inner life will readily make the same observation.
Or will they? Are people beginning to believe that the images generated by neuroscientists are actually pictures of the brain and its activity? Will they lose interest in the unique qualities of their own thinking, and focus instead on the optimization of synapses and neural pathways?
The late Ursula Franklin, writing about cultural conformity, put it this way:
The technology of an activity defines the activity itself, and in so doing excludes the emergence of alternatives.
In the early 1980s, I began working in the computer industry with a group of technical writers. Our job was to make sense of highly complex and confusing systems, and explain them in practical business terms to the “users.” We fought like hell to get rid of this insulting term. “Users” were businesspeople with a job to do, and the system was supposed to be serving THEIR need – not the other way around.
We are in a similar situation today. Large segments of our population are in liminal transition – people find themselves unable to cope with the basic necessities of life, and are in need of various levels of support. (The shocking statistics relating to dementia are only one example of this trend.) As many health practitioners know, what really matters is a deep and abiding faith in the prevailing personhood of each human being. Technology and medicine are critical supports, but they are indeed just that – supports.
I was prompted to write this post after reading an article in Hospital News: Aging and brain health innovation investment a game changer for seniors’ health care sector. The article describes how:
the Seniors Quality Leap Initiative (SQLI) will provide…unique expertise to enable the evaluation, dissemination and adoption of new care practices while designing and beta-testing emerging technologies that support seniors well-being in real world care settings. Some of the inaugural innovations that will be pursued by the new Centre include an on-line cognitive assessment, consumer-directed cognitive neuro-rehabilitation strategies, facial recognition software, remote wellness monitoring, health coaching software solutions, mobile medication monitoring and tele-dementia care.
Although “new care practices” are mentioned, they are not described. What effect will these practices have on personhood? Are we, once again, putting the proverbial technological contrivance before the sentient being?