The human subject in the age of neuroscience : the influence of neuroscience on the view of the human subject in psychology

Bothma, Gerhard Jacobus (2020-03)

Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2020.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Over the past two decades we have witnessed the meteoric rise of neuroscience. For the most part this development was driven by new imaging technology, growing public interest in brain science and financial support by governments and the pharmaceutical industry. Neuroscience is having a major impact, not only on various scientific disciplines like medicine, linguistics, psychiatry and psychology, but also on popular opinions about who we are as human beings. The ontological model of the human underlying the mainstream core of neuroscience is to a great extent deterministic, reductionist and mechanistic. Psychology has, since its beginnings in the 19th century, always had doubts about its status as a science and often in the past turned to the natural sciences for guidance, especially physiology, biology, evolution and genetics. Since the rise of neuroscience it is on this discipline that psychology is leaning ever more heavily in order to establish itself as a true (i.e. natural) science. Thus it has become necessary to take a critical look at the relationship between neuroscience and psychology. To that end this study aims to answer these questions: What is the ontological model of human functioning as propagated by neuroscience? What is the influence of this model on psychological research endeavours and theory? What alternative models exist and how do they explain the relationship between brain and psyche? How can these alternative explanations be used to create a humanistic ontology that reflects true human experience and reality? I will conclude that the neuroscience model is too reductionist and mechanistic to be a true reflection of human functioning, restricting the multi-faceted human personality to brain processes. Focussing on the brain and neuroscience also restrict the scope of psychology, causes psychology to make biology the central focus and neglect aspects like social interaction and interpersonal processes of meaning making and to not engage critically with socio-political realities but rather to support the status quo. However, there are alternative views about the relationship between brain, mind and environment. These views argue that the mind and cognition are extended beyond the brain. The brain is necessary for explaining cognitive processes, but not sufficient, opening the way for acknowledging the role that factors other than brain processes play. I will investigate this extended view of cognition and mind and compare it with the more traditional, mainstream neuroscience view. Lastly I will connect the extended view with the ontological conception of humans as story tellers, as propagated by narrative psychology, arguing that it is not information processing that define us but rather the creation of personal and cultural narratives.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Oor die afgelope twee dekades het neurowetenskap groot opgang gemaak. Hierdie ontwikkeling is grootliks toe te skryf aan nuwe tegnologie om na die brein te kyk, toenemende openbare belangstelling in brein wetenskap en finansiële ondersteuning deur regerings en die farmaseutiese industrie. Neurowetenskap het nie net ‘n reuse impak op ander wetenskaplike dissiplines soos geneeskunde, linguistiek, psigiatrie en sielkunde nie, maar ook op populêre menings oor wie en wat die mens is. Die ontologiese model wat die hoofstroom kern van neurowetenskap onderlê is grootliks deterministies, reduksionisties en meganisties van aard. Sielkunde het sedert sy ontstaan gedurende die 19de eeu nog altyd twyfel gekoester oor sy status as a wetenskaplike dissipline en het dikwels na die natuurwetenskappe gekeer vir leiding, spesifiek biologie, fisiologie, evolusie en genetika. Sedert die opkoms van neurowetenskap is dit hierdie dissipline waarop sielkunde al hoe meer leun ten einde sigself as ‘n ware (d.i. natuur-) wetenskap te vestig. Dit het daarom nodig geword om krities te kyk na die verhouding tussen neurowetenskap en sielkunde. Hierdie studie wil dan antwoorde soek op die volgende vrae: Wat is die ontologiese model van menslike funksionering soos deur die neurowetenskap verkondig? Wat is die invloed van hierdie model op navorsing en teoretisering in die sielkunde? Watter alternatiewe modelle is daar en wat is hulle siening omtrent die verhouding tussen die brein en psige? Hoe kan hierdie alternatiewe sienings gebruik word om ‘n alternatiewe ontologie te ontwikkel wat die komplekse aard van menslike funksionering kan weerspieël? Ek kom tot die gevolgtrekking dat die neurowetenskaplike ontologie te reduksionisties en meganisties is om ‘n ware refleksie van menslike funksionering daar te stel omdat dit die ryk geskakeerde aard van die menslike persoonlikheid reduseer tot blote brein funksies. ‘n Fokus op die brein en neurowetenskap sal ook die omvang van sielkunde as vakgebied beperk sodat sielkunde prioriteit verleen aan biologie en ander aspekte soos sosiale interaksie en interpersoonlike verhoudings van betekenisskepping sal afskeep, asook die gevaar loop om huidige sosio-politieke realiteite te help versterk in plaas van om krities daarmee om te gaan. Daar bestaan egter alternatiewe sienings oor die verhouding tussen brein, verstand en omgewing. Hierdie sienings argumenteer dat die verstand en kognisie verby brein prosesse alleen strek. Die brein is nodig vir die beskrywing van kognitiewe prosesse, maar nie voldoende nie. So ‘n konsepsie open die weg vir die erkenning van ander aspekte wat ook ‘n rol speel. Ek sal hierdie idee van uitgebreide kognisie ondersoek en vergelyk met die tradisionele hoofstroom neurowetenskap siening. Laastens sal ek die uitgebreide siening van kognisie verbind met die ontologiese konsepsie van die mens as storieverteller, soos voorgehou deur narratiewe sielkunde, en argumenteer dat nie informasie prosessering nie, maar die skep van perssonlike and kulturele narratiewe, ons as mense omskryf.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/108276
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