Insofar as neuroscientiﬁc references daily penetrate countless disciplinary ﬁelds, creating their own plethora of “emerging neuro disciplines” (Vidal 2009: 9) and neurocultures (Ortega and Vidal 2011), and popularizing expressions such as “neural correlates,” “neural bases,” and “neural markers of,” then questions about what makes this trend so irresistible also grow. Why do we ﬁnd neuroscientiﬁc explanations so compelling? What is the particular appeal of brain-based arguments? Just to give here an example of the current enthusiasm for a neurobiologization of the human experience: in a situation where, only in 2007, “an average of eight peer-reviewed articles employing fMRI [functional magnetic resonance imaging] were published per day”2 (Lehrer 2008), the list of the psychological and “cultural” phenomena that have been “turned neurobiological” has become impressive: it goes from the A of “altruism” to the Z of “zeal,” passing from “criminal behavior” to “hope,” from “love” to “problem gambling,” from “neuroticism” to “wisdom,” from “trust” to “yawning” (Vrecko 2010). When novelists too are starting to make use of the iconic force of the brain in their works (for instance, McEwan 2005; Powers 2006; Gennero 2011) it seems fair to conclude that a certain “way of thinking has taken shape” today (Rose 2007: 220), one for which everything that is relevant for human beings has to pass through and leave a trace in the brain: nature and nurture, for this new neurocentric mentality, are “simply two diﬀerent ways of making deposits in the brain synaptic ledgers” (LeDoux 2002: 5). The aim of this chapter is to investigate such a “neuromania” scenario (Legrenzi
and Umiltà 2009; Vidal 2009) of our days from a global perspective, trying to shed light on some background reasons for the current attractive force of neuroscientiﬁc explanations, especially when they come to the moral and political ﬁeld. A methodological qualiﬁcation is necessary here, however. In my chapter, I will mainly focus on the present-day perspective, addressing what has happened
over the last three decades or so. This may be a justiﬁed choice, as scholars have emphasized the originality and discontinuities of the current neurobiological wave, interpreted as an “‘epistemological shift’ in the long trajectory of the sciences of the brain and the nervous system” (Abi-Rached and Rose 2010: 17; Changeux 2002: 331-32). But this radically novel character of the present3 should nonetheless not make us forget that what is under the lens of this book, that is an emerging neuropolitics, was after all in a rudimentary form already there at the time of George Combe’s System of Phrenology (1836) – where the organ of Veneration “in the genuine Whig or republican” was considered “generally smaller” than the one “in the head of the genuine Tory” (Combe 1836: 266) – not to mention more extensive neuro-biopolitical meditations at the time of psychiatrists and neurologists like August Forel and Oskar Vogt, some decades after Combe (Hagner 2001). This longue-durée perspective (Canguilhem 2008; Meloni 2011a) and an emphasis on the “relationship of mutual constitution” between neurology and modernity (Salisbury and Shail 2009), will remain silent in this chapter, but have to be kept in mind in order to put into historical perspective (and probably mitigate) some of the emphatic over-expectations surrounding our age of neuro-enthusiasm.