Avoid Biological Reductionism


From Cheryl Swope | October 27, 2016 | Reflections

One of Dr. Temple Grandin’s newest books, The Autistic Brain: Helping Different Kinds of Minds Succeed, opens to us the science of neuro-imaging to remind us that many of our children’s odd fears, challenges, and even sensory strains are rooted in real, visible brain differences. She writes, “My left ventricle is so long that it extends into my parietal cortex. And the parietal cortex is known to be associated with working memory.” She adds, “The disturbance to my parietal cortex could explain why I have trouble performing tasks that require me to follow several instructions in short order.” (p. 27)

Dr. Grandin underwent multiple MRI’s to reveal isolated areas of function (or malfunction) which impact face recognition, memory, and more. This is a fascinating book.

Yet on page 145 of Different Learners, an easy read by another of my favorite thinkers, Jane M. Healy, Ph.D., we receive this wise, simultaneous caution against “biological ‘reductionism’”:

As we evaluate any new development in the science of the brain, it is a good idea to keep in mind that our real purpose — and that of the scientists — needs to be helping living, breathing, wiggling, giggling children…. Scientists and scanners may isolate a single neuron that recognizes your grandmother’s face, but they are a long way from truly understanding your entire, unique subjective experience of being with your grandmother.”

So true.


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