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Plasticity and PathologyOn the Formation of the Neural Subject$
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David Bates and Nima Bassiri

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780823266135

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823266135.001.0001

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Plasticity, Pathology, and Pleasure in Cold War America

Plasticity, Pathology, and Pleasure in Cold War America

(p.35) 3 Plasticity, Pathology, and Pleasure in Cold War America
Plasticity and Pathology

Cathy Gere

Fordham University Press

This chapter argues that reward and punishment were key terms in Cold War debates about neural plasticity. It examines some key episodes in hedonist psychology, culminating in Robert Heath’s 1973 publication, “Septal Stimulation for the Initiation of Heterosexual Behavior in a Homosexual Male.” Intercut with this account is the story of hedonist psychology’s opponents, defenders of an ideal of human autonomy, drawn from a variety of social movements and scholarly schools, including some of the founders of cognitive science. These scientists championed a view of the innate, genetically determined structure of the human brain that accounted for our species-specific attributes, including our moral freedom. Both sides of the debate drew from evolutionary theory, but in the context of Cold War anxieties about brainwashing and mind-control techniques, it was the hedonists’ extreme commitment to behavioral plasticity that made them vulnerable to accusations of totalitarianism.

Keywords:   pain, pleasure, reward, punishment, neural plasticity, hedonist psychology, human brain, totalitarianism

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