With Professor Allan Young: "Neuroscience of Empathy & Cruelty"

  • December 6, 2013 · 6:00 PM
  • Hexagram-Concordia

With the rapid growth of the life sciences, neurosciences and other disciplines trying to understand the human brain, the need for an anthropological perspective on such issues has never been greater. Anthropology’s objects of study are often situated on the borders of nature and culture, biology and society, the body and the mind. Science bears within it the traces of historical truths and moral economies. It is a product of what Allan Young—Professor of Anthropology and the Marjorie Bronfman Professor of Social Studies in Medicine at McGill University–calls ‘epistemic cultures’. Young argues that anthropological work has to do with unveiling the epistemological premises of contemporary science, as well as its normative impact on the way we think about ourselves, our behavior, what’s normal, and what’s not. In this regard, Young made a significant contribution to the anthropological study of psychiatric science through his pioneering book, The Harmony of Illusions: Inventing Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (1995), in which he discusses the invention of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In recent years, his research has centered on social neurosciences, their epistemology and their conception of the brain and of human nature (Young 2011, 2012). [Except from a recent interview by Vincent Duclos. See full interview here: http://somatosphere.net/2013/10/when-anthropology-meets-science-an-interview-with-allan-young.html. 

Our meeting will be a follow up to our recent gathering at IRCM to hear professor Young speak about the (Neuro)Science of Evil: how do we go about understanding empathy and cruelty, and how we attempt to pinpoint/reduce it to a certain neural mechanism.

As we ran out of time on Thursday, and Professor Young has kindly accepted my invitation to join us in our Brain-Self-Society circle for a more informal gathering where we will have better opportunities for question/answer.

it is a privilege to have him in our meet up and I highly recommend attending this meeting. Looking forward to seeing you on Friday.


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  • Naj

    Perhaps instead of anthropologizing and neurologizing empathy, we should just try it. Say, none of us are born with an innate ability to be literate, so why do we look for intrinsic genes and molecules and brain structures to explain "empathy"? This article is worth reading: http://www.alternet.org/culture/six-habits-highly-empathic-people

    January 29, 2014

  • Tony

    A very interesting and eye-opening presentation by Prof. Young. I never knew that Oxytocin was getting a free ride as a pro-social hormone. I like that he dropped a tantalizing and unanswered question at the end: "Why do we seek a naturalized explanation for empathy?" I guess I'll have to wait for the sequel for the answer. :-)

    December 9, 2013

  • Jason

    An emergency came up, unfortunately could not be there.

    December 7, 2013

  • Annie

    Does the[masked] mean it's on the 10th floor of the EV building? Just checking. See you soon!

    December 6, 2013

    • Naj

      yes.

      December 6, 2013

  • Marianne

    Thank you, Naj!!! I am confused now by my two appointments close in time, but will try my best to come.

    December 5, 2013

  • Naj

    Please note the change of time everyone (we will meet at 6:00) Feel free to arrive earlier, I will be there. Sorry for the late announcement, but on the positive side, we can hang around and go for holiday drinks afterward!

    December 5, 2013

  • Marianne

    Have to change my RSVP. Would be very difficult to reach at new time.Hope to read a summary that Naj always generously sent us. Thanks!

    December 5, 2013

    • Naj

      Marianne, we will start at 6:00; I put the time sooner because people arrive late :)

      December 5, 2013

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