Paul A. Lombardo, PhD, JD
Regents' Professor and Bobby Lee Cook Professor of Law
Georgia State University College of Law
"From Psycographs to FMRI: Historical Context for the Claims of Neuroscience"
Abstract: In the U.S., announcement of the Presidential “Brain Initiative” has focused attention on “revolutionizing our understanding of the human brain” And neuroscience has begun to replace genetics as the field most likely to fill press headlines. The promise of more research funding for the field has led to extraordinary claims that research will soon lead to mind reading, lie detection, and unlocking the brain-based foundations of virtue and character. But these claims echo similar assertions from a century ago, many of which were eventually discarded as quackery, eugenics or misguided pseudoscience. Then the power of phrenology was touted, and machines like the “Psycograph” were offered to “thoroughly and accurately” measure “the powers of intellect, affect and will.” Today similarly expansive claims are being made for color-coded functional magnetic resonance imagery. Are we facing true scientific triumph or mere recycled hyperbole? This presentation will explore the historical echoes of today’s most extravagant claims in the field of neuroscience, and analyze how our actual understanding of mental functioning compares to the hopeful assertions that are filling both the lay press and scientific journals.