Neuro-feminism

Suppose someone were thinking of a collection on such a thing, and there were publishers of a like mind, and even co-editors.  One very initial step might be to ask for suggestions from an audience like this.  Suggestions, that is, for possible subjects and possible authors.

Possible subjects might  include things like pop culture products, ethics & value theory, stereotypes. It would be wonderful if the supposed person were to be given more ideas here!

If  you yourself would like to mention something off line, please write me at jj.second@gmail.com.

(This is preliminary to any cfp, but I’m going to put that label in because  it will turn up in any cfp search.)

13 thoughts on “Neuro-feminism

  1. How about a critical look at mirror neuron research and how it relates to ethics of care, through the empathy connection developed by Michael Slote?

  2. Thanks so much, lga. Some of us work in that area, but I’m not sure we all know that it connects to Slote’s work. That could create a nice context.

    You mentioned a critical look. It’s a deep belief of mine that philosophers routinely misinterpret lots of that stuff, because they don’t realize that “representation” is really used in a different sense. I’ve corresponded with one of the lead persons in that area about this; in fact, it was he who initiated the discussion. Then suitably emboldened, I declared this at a conference, only to be told by a big phil in the field that if I used words like that, “we cannot talk with you.”

    You gotta get these women in line.

  3. I am finding more and more that there are a lot of misunderstandings between psychology and philosophy (and the humanities in general), because of the expectation that ordinary-seeming words are being used in the same way. Still, I think dialogue across the disciplines is important.

  4. There seems to be a lot of posturing that neuroscience “proves” that differences between men & women are innate rather than cultural. Thus, as a subject, I would suggest “using neuroscience to stereotype.”

    So, we’d need people who can shed a critical eye on the research. Elizabeth Spelke has done this in her dialog with Steven Pinker. Carol Tavris did this in her book “The Mismeasure of Woman” published in 1993, so it needs updating desperately responding to newer research). Joan Roughgarden might also have an interesting perspective building on her work on social selection (rather than sexual selection) in “Evolution’s Rainbow.” Spelke & Tavris are psychologists. Roughgarden is a biologist. Hmm, no philosopher… I wonder if Susan Blackmore has done any work on this. She seems to feel very comfortable in both psychology & philosophy.

  5. I am skeptical of measuring any complicated trait with any neuro imaging technique in the first place.
    “Neuro” is one of those buzzwords easing the way to funding (see also Bill Uttal’s “The New Phrenology”)… But if you can get a book out of it, well, sure!
    There is something fundamentally flawed in fMRI research that seeks to find neurological bases for complex traits. Apart from the fact that the N in fMRI research is generally spectacularly low, there is also a gross oversight in whether it’s possible to extrapolate from pretty basic fMRI research (simple motor functions, simple visuals) to very complex concepts like deception, empathy, etc etc. I don’t think it’s feasible at all.
    Also, the way data are generated from fMRI data go through an enormous amount of processing and shaping up before they end up as clear red dots on a model 3D graphic brain. That in combination with the generally small N makes almost any conclusion of an fMRI study into complex traits highly dubitable.
    For an example, look up Hank Greely on lie detection. For a philosophical analysis of how fMRI data get presented and what effects that has on our understanding, see Adina Roskies.
    Also related: http://www.ethicsandtechnology.eu/index.php/subsite/moral (we earlier did a conference on the Ethics of Neuroimaging, and this is in light of the same project).

    As for the biological differences in the brain between men and women in the first place, they are definitely there. However, the intragender variances are larger than the intergender varieties.
    Men are generally a tad more lateralised than women, that is to say that “functions” appear to be more unilaterally realised. The ability to speak, for instance, is generally more located in the left side of the brain with men. Women also use the mirrored part in the right side of the brain. That’s presumably one of the reasons women generally recover faster and better from aphasias.
    Anyway, I am sidetracking. I just am absolutely not convinced that you can find any feministing with brain imaging techniques.

  6. Rachel and Hippocampa, thanks so much for the great suggestions.
    Rachel, I’d love to say that none of the really good researchers is going to argue that there are very significant innate differences, but that’s not true. Some of the worst though are pretty much at a pop psych level. One of the editors has a great paper on the ‘female brain.’
    Hippocampa, I’m less sure about it. There are certainly large and unresolved difficulties, but some results are so suggestive that they are certainly worth exploring. One reason for keeping on is that the results are so much better, I think, than anything any psychoanalytic account has given us, and actually seem to me that have a much greater appreciation of the complexity of human life. So, for example, the category of ‘borderline personality’ is really problematic, since women tend to get lumped in there when actually the problems lie in their lives. BUT the latest fMRI results that I know of have a fascinating implication for cases where the diagnosis may be appropriate. It looks very much as though the borderline personality disorder person has a much deeper problem in understanding others’ reactions to them than I think anyone has ever before suggested. In short, they are fine in registering when they transgress against others, but not in when others transgress against them. That’s so counter to our ordinary understanding, and I think most psychoanalytic understandings, and probably the sort of jolt that our thinking needs.
    That’s not to say there’s anything like an understanding of any neural foundation to BPD, but that doesn’t mean one can’t get any insight into the differences between BPD and non-BPD. BUT everyone I know working in the area thinks that it is just one approach among many and doesn’t give ‘the whole truth.’

    I expect that last bit has become nearly obligatory to say.

  7. In fact, some of the stuff about personality disorders shows up in an earlier post:
    https://feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/2008/08/15/explaining-psychopathologies/
    The reference to faking caring in that post was to the suggestion that dogs don’t give a damn, but they are smart enough to get us to think they do. In my recent visits to the hyper-vets (the ultra specialist who charges zillions, it can seem) I discussed this with one person, and apparently there’s some agreement now that dogs are really fakes. Not fake animals, that is, but fake lovers-of-us.

  8. One ethical concern is that actual neurosystems research typically involves objectifying animals and doing rather horrific things to them. My perspective on neuroscience shifted dramatically when I became better acquainted with the research projects in our department. PET and fMRI have their downsides, but at least they are non-invasive.

  9. I completely agree that borderline obviously has a biological base! As do many other things, and there absolutely is a great deal to be gained by research of biological anomalies in the brains with MRI and/or fMRI.
    However :P I do not think that being a feminist is a biological anomoaly, that’s the issue!

  10. I just wanted to second jj’s appreciation of the great links and cites. Now I just wish I had an extra couple days to pour through all this. :-)

Comments are closed.