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Being BrainsMaking the Cerebral Subject$
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Fernando Vidal and Francisco Ortega

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780823276073

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823276073.001.0001

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Genealogy of the Cerebral Subject

Genealogy of the Cerebral Subject

(p.13) One Genealogy of the Cerebral Subject
Being Brains

Fernando Vidal

Francisco Ortega

Fordham University Press

The first chapter proposes to trace the distant roots of the cerebral subject to the late seventeenth century, and particularly to debates about the seat of the soul, the corpuscularian theory of matter, and John Locke’s philosophy of personal identity. In the wake of Locke, eighteenth century authors began to assert that the brain is the only part of the body we need to be ourselves. In the nineteenth century, this form of deterministic essentialism contributed to motivate research into brain structure and function, and in turn confirmed the brain-personhood nexus. Since then, from phrenology to functional neuroimaging, neuroscientific knowledge and representations have constituted a powerful support for prescriptive outlooks on the individual and society. “Neuroascesis,” as we call the business that sells programs of cerebral self-discipline, is a case in point, which this chapter also examines. It appeals to the brain and neuroscience as bases for its self-help recipes to enhance memory and reasoning, fight depression, anxiety and compulsions, improve sexual performance, achieve happiness, and even establish a direct contact with God. Yet underneath the neuro surface lie beliefs and even concrete instructions that can be traced to nineteenth-century hygiene manuals.

Keywords:   brain fitness, cerebral subject, John Locke, personal identity, phrenology

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