The blogosphere is buzzing with lots of vitriol for Martin Lindstrom’s piece on the ‘neuroscience’ of loving your iPhone. To be sure, there’s plenty to spew about, and many of my colleagues in neuroscience, neurotechnology and neuroethics have brought the issues to the fore: inapt misrepresentation of neuroscience, miscommunication of neuroscientific theory and findings, fallacious thinking both as regards the ways that neuroimaging can and should be used (e.g. the fallacy of false cause/post hoc ergo propter hoc – attributing the antecedents to the consequential), and the conceptualization of structure-function relations in the brain (what Bennett and Hacker have called the mereological fallacy of attributing the function of the whole solely to one of the constituent parts), and last, but certainly not least, plain misuse of terms and constructs (e.g. “synesthesia”).
The employment of basic neuroscientific research (what are known in government parlance as “6.1 Level” studies) in translational development (so-called “6.2 Level” work) and test and evaluation applications (“6.3 Level” uses) is not always a straightforward sequence of events. There are some well-done and very interesting basic neuroscientific findings that sniff of translational and applied utility, and recent demonstration that rats do not have neurological mechanism to allow finely tuned vertical orientation may be an example of such a study. Recent research by Robin Hayman, Madeleine Verriotis, Aleksandar Jovalekie, Andre Fenton, and Kathryn Jeffery, (Anisotropic encoding of three-dimensional space by place cells and grid cells) suggests that the rat brain does not process vertical-space information as efficiently or adeptly as horizontal and lateral field information, and this may have a number of implications – both for an understanding of brain-environmental interactions, and for future research.
I recently read with great interest an article, “the quest to build the perfect lie detector,” (a condensed excerpt from Lone Frank’s recent book, “The Neurotourist: Postcards from the Edge of Brain Science”) on the use of neuroimaging to advance the current state of lie detector technology. The caveat that “they’re getting close and it’s scary” may be a bit off the mark in some ways, but spot-on in others. While the technology is not as close as implied to being able to “scan brains to read minds” – and particularly detect deception, I think that the truly scary issue lies in the fact that many believe it to be “close enough.”