My NYT OpEd piece on brain myths originally included four: two old, one that has just recently taken hold (mirror neurons) and a fourth that is in the earliest stages of the neuromyth life cycle. This fourth myth didn't make the editorial cut due to an 800 space limit. But through the magic of blogging, here it is.
Another 21st century neuromyth is just now being born, the idea that
if neuroscientists can map the structure of the brain, from micro to macro
circuit, we will achieve a complete understanding of the mind. The data around which this infant myth is
coalescing is the flurry of technological achievements in brain mapping:
functional MRI, diffusion-based connectivity, optogenetics, see-through
“Clarity” brain technology, and so on.
For the first time in history the prospects of mapping the entire brain
seems possible. There is no question
that this research effort will bear fruit, but a complete circuit diagram of
the brain won’t explain how the mind works any more than a complete sequence of
the human genome explains how the sequence builds a human. There is simply more to the problem than a
sequence or circuit diagram. What we need in addition is a map of the relation between the circuit diagrams,
their dynamics, and equally detailed cognitive/computational “maps” of the
mental abilities they create. A number
of us in the neuroscience community are making this point already (e.g., Gary
Marcus’ recent NYT Op-Ed, “The Trouble with Brain Science” 11 July 2014) and I
suspect that under direct questioning many brain mapping practitioners would
agree that the maps aren’t the whole story. But given the floodlight of
attention cast on the push to map the brain, together with the natural history
of science myths, it’s not hard to predict the development of a colossal myth
regarding what it will take to truly understand how the brain creates the mind.