Using behavioral neuroscience to think about politics?
Should philosophers, political scientists and others – including members of parliments – involved in thinking about politics make use of new knowledge emanating from experimental psychology and neuroscience? A line of so-called critical thinking, going from the Frankfurt School through Foucault and Bourdieu to many contemporary humanists, believes it is problematic, if not outright dangerous, to do so. Ideological notions about our mental make-up and human nature, they claim, are often proclaimed scientific truths, even when the evidence is scarce or problematic. This is, sure enough, true from time to time. Still, I personally adhere more to the Enlightenment idea that, only by understanding how we actually work, is it possible to implement changes that will improve our conditions. The video below is fun attempt, I recently stumbled upon, of a professional political wonk, Matthew Taylor, a former advisor to the British Prime Minister, to engage with some of the work comming out of behavioral economics and neuroscience. An interesting question his talk raises is how we can improve the democratic conversation given how focussed our brains are on immediate concerns that have a direct impact on our personal lifes.
I plan to post more about experimental research related to political science. Some of the things we are learning in these years ought to have an impact on how we think about politics (but probably wont!).