I’ve been watching with a degree of unease over the past several years as some neuroscientists have claimed the ability to answer fundamental questions central to the work of the humanities. To say that I find this unlikely is something of an understatement. This is not to deride the value of neuroscientific research but to merely reject the notion it can provide something like a Rosetta Stone for human creativity. Roger Scruton’s piece in the Spectator tackles this issue and, I think, convincingly outlines the main reasons for treating neuroscience’s most expansionary claims with the skepticism they deserve.
“It seems to me that aesthetics, criticism, musicology and law are real disciplines, but not sciences. They are not concerned with explaining some aspect of the human condition but with understanding it, according to its own internal procedures. Rebrand them as branches of neuroscience and you don’t necessarily increase knowledge: in fact you might lose it. Brain imaging won’t help you to analyse Bach’s Art of Fugue or to interpret King Lear any more than it will unravel the concept of legal responsibility or deliver a proof of Goldbach’s conjecture; it won’t help you to understand the concept of God or to evaluate the proofs for His existence, nor will it show you why justice is a virtue and cowardice a vice.”