Solenne Albert – Stimulate your neurons!

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Jacques-Alain Miller’s text, « Neuro, the New Real” gives us a solid compass to define crucial issues of the PIPOL 9 congress. In this text he indicates that: “cognitivism is the ideology or the belief that man is a machine that processes information, (…) the result is the identification of man with the machine, with computer science.”(1) Another process has crossed this extraordinary development of man conceived as a machine as Jacques-Alain Miller points out: the one of mankind perceived from the data observation of his brain. “This mechanical materialism that is cognitivism, has found its major object: the brain. We conclude that it is here that it happens, it is the location, a crossroads. (…) Thanks to all the developments in the last fifteen years, medical imaging by magnetic resonance allows us to imagine neuronal activity. Today, we are equipped with a powerful imaginary of the symbolic.  “The brain is a new master signifier, making it possible to believe that it would be possible to understand everything, thanks to the brain. Love, learning, the tastes that we have … nothing escapes these pseudo-scientific explanations! There is not a magazine or journal which will regularly relay these so-called advances, more often comical than scientific.

One example among thousands from an article in Le Monde “How your brain learns from observing.” As we are told in recent work, that for a mouse, there is “a specific cerebral circuit which provides learning based on the observation of a fellow mouse.”(2) This is no novelty … what a lot of fuss for nothing! Or maybe this study echoes another article of Le Monde entitled “The brain feeds on changes.”(3)  Since we observe that the production of neurons stops as soon as we stop learning, it is then scientifically proven … that the human being develops cerebral skills by learning … it’s almost stating the obvious! What is the consequence for this evidence metamorphosized into a superegoic ideal? … We need to “stimulate” our neurons! This over-stimulation is a consequence of the utopia which is adorned with the ideals of science. And why not teach our children a multitude of languages starting from primary school? Since the more you stimulate the brain to learn, the more you increase your “cognitive aptitude,” as well as your intelligence!

Intelligence is a key word used in politics. The minister of national education says it straight out: he wishes to lean towards neuroscience in order to increase the potential of students and to “revolutionize school.” This is what Stanislas Dehaene, who is a psychologist advocates and upon which the minister agrees with. Let’s “reward curiosity” so that children “can deploy all their brain resources.”(4) From there, there is only one step which is easily crossed to saying that school “kills children’s curiosity.” According to the minister, there are “three ways school can kill curiosity.” One of them is “not to provide this amazing-computer that is the child, with an adequately stimulating environment.”(5)

To equate the human being to his brain, to reduce him to a stimulus-response susceptible to being identified by imagery, demonstrates the dream that there could be “a mathematic science of thought which starts from the study of a living organ, the brain.”(6) The dream that the human being is an always more and more efficient machine …  As Jacques-Alain Miller indicates, the cognitive sciences consider that the real response of the psyche is the brain, “whereby the essence of the cognitivist operation is inference, from these observation facts, we infer mental processes (…). In other words, psychology has gone from observing behaviors to observing neurons.” This “desire for control”(7) is a desire that rejects the unconscious, which is par excellence what escapes, what fails, what manifests itself where we least expect it and arouses surprise … A major signifier is excluded from this cognitivist dream – that of desire especially under the form of whim, of the unpredictable, of that which doesn’t explain itself, which cannot be programmed, nor can it be predicted or inferred …

Translated by Tracy Favre
Reviewed by Caroline Heanue

  1. Jacques-Alain Miller, « Neuro -, le nouveau réel, » in La Cause du désir n°98, p.116
  2. Le Monde, 08 May 2018, « Comment le cerveau apprend en observant »
  3. Le Monde, 22 April 2018
  4. Stanislas Dehaene, psychologist, neuroscientist, 30 October on « France Culture »
  5. Ibid
  6. JAM, Ibid, p.118
  7. JAM, ibid, p.120
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