Posts Tagged ‘Edward O. Wilson’

The Baptism of Christ, Andrea del Verrocchio and Leonardo da Vinci, 1472-1745

The Baptism of Christ, Andrea del Verrocchio and Leonardo da Vinci, 1472-1745

In speech and writing, it occurred to me that I could simply not name the scientific field I was studying. “The neuro- approach in social science” is a clumsy definition for a field that has not been been labeled yet. For now, we just have the above definition, or a repetitive list: neuro-marketing, neuro-management, neuro-linguistics, neuro-politics, etc…

“Naming” might be seen as a trivial thing, not closely as interesting as the substantive subject that labels designate.  But it can almost always reveal things. To mention something I know well, “sociobiology”, the name in itself had an interesting impact. Edward Wilson said that he chose it in reference to an existing sub-field in animal social behavioral studies, and hence it would be a sufficiently known term to designate his own work in social behavior, Sociobiology (Wilson 1975).

As it turned out, nobody knew about the obscure sub-field Wilson referred to, but some critics said that this name did remind them of something: the German and nazi “social-biologie”. Critics used this to support their claim that Wilson’s book was Social Darwinism in new clothes. With such a negative association, a number of biologists a priori sympathetic to Wilson’s research either refused to be called sociobiologists, or if they accepted the label, were indicted for that. Today, “sociobiology” is used in some very specialized articles about the social behavior of monkeys, but that’s about all.

This episode is not forced to happen again, even if that it is still a very open possibility [for an on-going feud about Social Darwinism in economics, – “I am not!”, “Yes you are, and a fascist one!” -, look at here. I’ll blog it soon in the Playground).

So… what for a good name for the field? “Cognitive neuroscience”? To me, it is more a designation of basic capacities such as language, vision or memory, not for a choice between 2 lotteries or attitudes on the financial market. “Neuroeconomics”? This is more or less the direction taken for now, but with an understandable reluctance from other social scientists to be taken under the imperialist covering arm of economics. So far, neuroeconomists I have met are themselves keener to be considered as students of “decision making”. That, I think, showcases their strong relationship with psychology, something they do not want to give up.

The game is then open: “neuro-social science?” “social neuroscience?” “brainomics”? My own preference goes for social neuroscience. A label will appear soon anyway, as journals have to named, and short titles for grant application have to be found. Just wait for a year or two, that’s my guess.

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