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RS96 - Sally Satel and Scott Lilienfeld on the Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience 

Release date: November 10, 2013

Scott O. Lilienfeld

Sally Satel

It seems like a week can't go by without a news story about how neuroscience has discovered the neurological basis of love, morality, addiction, you name it. Yet how much explanatory power does neuroscience really have -- and are we putting too much trust in its findings? On this episode of Rationally Speaking, Massimo and Julia explore these questions with psychiatrist Sally Satel and professor of psychology Scott O. Lilienfeld, the authors of "Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience."

Scott's pick: "The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us"

Sally's pick: "Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious"

Reader Comments (8)

Enjoyed this episode quite a bit. For some reason it made me think of Gary Taubes- you should really consider having him on the show. One of the most rigorous science journalists out there, whose latest focus has been on diet and nutrition science.

November 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChas

Thanks for a very interesting interview, it was well worth my time. I am delighted that I found your podcast Rationally Speaking. I like the practical perspective of both your guest brought to the show, but I also believe in giving back so here it goes.

I know I am being nit picky, but I thought I would point out my pain points.

1) for Scott O. Lilienfeld
I cringe when people say “not in our lifetime.” It’s a common phrase, but it is a future unaware phrase, and is it even relevant? It could be an honest mistake, but when I hear it I think about someone that is drawing a conclusions without all the relevant facts which goes to their credibility about everything they just said.

2) There is a more fundamental discipline than physics. Those physics is getting in the game in a big way with theoretical physics, and that is information theory. Just thought I would point that out.

It may not be totally relevant, so take it for what it is worth.

November 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMark Hidden

Is this not a great demonstration of bias by the psychologist and psychiatrist?

Neuroscience is going to "gobble up" their careers. Perhaps they are defensive and would like to discredit the explanatory power of neuroscience.

The example mentioned of chemistry and physics as one day supplanting neuroscience due to a reductionist approach may be seriously flawed.

Neuroscience studies the "mechanics" of the neural structures and the these smallest neural structures have properties that are NOT mirrored in chemistry or physics.

It's like saying that in order to discuss vehicular transportation we need to know the molecular weight of the rubber used in the tires.
Mechanics, drivers don't need to study the molecular weight of rubber to successfully use a car for transportation. In order to understand human social behavior we need to study the elemental units of neural wiring because at the neuronal level is where thinking and brain processes take place unless the biological process utilizes quantum properties of reality in matter to give rise to consciousness.

November 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

Reductionism could "reduce" an ideal gas to a bunch of bouncing molecules, or reduce a mass on a spring to a bunch of infinitesimal pieces of spring pulling on each other, but if it's done right, all those low-level interactions will average out and you'll still get PV=nRT and F=-kx.

November 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMax

All I'm saying is that psychology may be using models that have a "lower resolution" of analysis for studying behavior patterns.
Neuroscience may be shedding light in a higher resolution for revealing the "smallest unit" that gives rise to consciousness.

In other words a psychological model of the mind imagined by a psychologist (and there are plenty of these SUBJECTIVE fantasies !!!) is rudimentary compared to a neuroscientific model of the mind.

It is confusing to see a podcast that has the subject of neuroscience as a main topic without a NEUROSCIENTIST present and then hear how Julia, Scott and Sally express their feelings that neuroscience won't be able to "explain it all" .

November 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

This understanding of neural correlates is shallow. Neural activity correlated to what a subject reports as their state of awareness is barely half the issue. A report is subjectively impenetrable to objective analysis, and neural activity itself tells us nothing about how the subjective experience is felt and thought as a result of that scanned activity.

The best approach is to correlate physical events to neural activity - effector and receptor activity at functional anatomical sites (we are laden with them firing away moving us and detecting stimulus) correlated to neural activity in the brain as their junction and no more. The brain is just a junction between complex variable activity at sites by way of effectors and receptors.

Are you following me. Have I lost you? It's quite simple - don't correlate a subjective report of neural activity, correlate physical activity to neural activity and from the correlation explain the subjective experience! Being a junction for physical site activity and no more, the brain finalizes their impulses to a threshold that creates the experience as a finalization in a flow of current through the brain.

QED, and there is more. You can read it in my free book at The brain is merely a silent facilitator of anatomical site functions in coordination. All the moving parts are at anatomical sites, and the brain merely has moving current. The brain creates representation of functions within a world after 100 or more milliseconds of processing from receptor inputs from functions - awareness is delayed and ongoing, in a cycle of current across sites via the brain.

Broaden your scope considerably, pundits. Use your intellect and don't stagnate. Push through logically, and progress. Understand the chemical capacities of site functions represented by neurons in the brain after finalization of neuron activity at site receptors and effectors. My book will explain it for you, and its free. How good's that?.

December 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMarcus Morgan

I started reading this book because I'm interested in the subject. In the first chapter something made me curious about the writers so I googled them. I found out that Sally Satel is a W.H. Brady Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. I was then reminded of "The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Conservative Think Tankery". In a perfect world I'd welcome conservative ideas but not in this world. She can hang out with other fellows like Newt Gingrich, John Bolton, Liz and Dick Cheney (Liz is the former chairman of their National Endowment for the Humanities for christ sake!) but she cannot hang out in my bookshelf.

There must start to be consequences for taking money from con think tanks to skew their thoughts towards the con/libertarian mindset. I stopped reading this book and picked up "A Skeptic's Guide to the Mind" by Robert A. Burton.

December 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterByron Quam
Although neuroscience may have some serious hype, even the guests cite FMRI and PET scans for evidence. So perhaps we may have over hyped the technology, but can nonetheless expect some serious progress in the near future.
January 5, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJameson

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