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Dr Tony Sampson releases new book on neuroculture

Education On The Edge

'The Assemblage Brain' explores and critiques expansion of neuroculture

A new book by Dr Tony D Sampson of the University of East London’s (UEL) School of Arts and Digital Industries examines the increasingly pervasive influence of ‘neuroculture’ – the idea that many of the most central aspects of human life are best understood as neuronal interactions inside the brain. 

The Assemblage Brain: Sense Making in Neuroculture explores and critiques this area of thought, which Dr Sampson says is impacting our cultural, social, political, and economic life.

Dr Sampson says, "My book views neuroculture as deeply problematic since it is fast becoming interwoven with a logic that tries to steer cognitive and affective brain processes toward certain political goals.

"The aim of the book is to challenge this neurocentric worldview by drawing on ideas from science, philosophy, art and politics, and present an alternative theory of sense making."

The concept of neuroculture is nothing new – Dr Sampson's book traces the idea back to anatomical drawings of brain cell structures and the subsequent neuron doctrine established in the latter part of the 1800s which states that the nervous system is made up of individual cells. 

But it has grown increasingly ubiquitous, Dr Sampson argues. Today, ‘neuro’ prefixes an array of research areas such as neurosociality, neuroreason, neurophilosophy, neuroaesthetics, neuroeconomics, neuromarketing, neuroethics, neuropsychiatry, neuroreligion, neuroaffect, and neuropolitics.

He says, "The ubiquity of neuroscience is usurping the power of the other big sciences, including genetics and computer science. It is attracting funding and gaining global media exposure. 

"It becomes, as such, a discursive force that determines to a great extent how we see the world."

The book looks at a range of neurotechnologies, including neuroimaging, non-invasive brainwave measurements and neuropharmacological interventions.

Dr Sampson says, "All of these play a role in supposedly unlocking the secrets of brain functionality, particularly those related to behaviour and the neuronal mechanisms that are assumed to make conscious experience possible."

Dr Sampson argues that instead of explaining ‘sense-making’ as something which is located in the brain, the ‘assemblage brain’ looks at the continuous relations brains establish with the sensory environments which they inhabit. 

For instance, the problem of attention deficit is not simply attributed to an isolated, internal problem with dopamine, but related to the experiences of a child who finds themselves in an often conflicting environment of attention and distraction. 

Dr Sampson explains, "It is a theory which argues that we cannot tell where neurons in the brain end and the external world begins." 

The Assemblage Brain: Sense Making in Neuroculture was published on 13 December by the University of Minnesota Press. 

Artwork used in the book was created by UEL graphic design graduates Dorota Piekorz and Francesco Tacchini.

Dr Sampson will formally launch his book on 8 February at the Rietveld Stadium in Amsterdam at an event called What is Happening to Our Brain? Art and Life in Times of Cognitive Automation. The event is open to the public and includes a keynote by Tony and theorist and activist Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi. 

There is also a second event planned in collaboration with two UEL-based artists, Mikey Georgeson and Dr Dean Todd, as part of Georgeson's The Deadends exhibit at the Studio One Gallery in South West London on 23 February. 

A third event is planned at King's College London in March.