So strong has the role of neuroscience become in explaining our behavior—centers of brain activity have been found for everything from religious experience to sarcasm—that artists may have little choice but to tackle its premises in their works, particularly the novel. “In one sense, neuro-explanations seem to challenge the mechanisms by which novels work. Neuroscientists warn us that we may have no freewill, no ‘self’ at the helm; their work shows that our memories are leaky reconstructions and that even our visual perception of the world is a system of illusions.”
What’s the Big Idea?
While neuroscience may be at the forefront of medical-scientific achievement, does that necessarily make the field’s vocabulary suited to artistic expression? New scientific understandings may not fundamentally change our view of the world, even if old issues—like freewill—are confronted anew. “Fiction exists for its own purposes, and writers and readers will rightly resist attempts to turn it into “evidence” for or against anything. It’s possible that neuroscience is just too new for its ideas to have permeated literary fiction in the way that those other paradigm-changers, Darwinism and psychoanalysis, did.”