9 February 2012

Recorded Lecture: Catherine Malabou, "Continental Philosophy and the Brain: Towards a Critical Neuroscience"

In this inaugural lecture presented by the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy on 2 February 2012 in London, Catherine Malabou asks whether it is possible to constitute the brain as an object for non-cognitivist, "continental" strands of study. Malabou cleverly revives Michel Foucault's often superficially read essay "What is Enlightenment?" (or "What is Critique?") in order to argue that critique may allow us to bridge the often discordant discourses of neuroscience and continental philosophy.

This is a dialogue which Malabou quite literally realises in a staged conversation between Foucault-the-continental-philosopher and Thomas-Metzinger-the-German-cognititian, in which both carefully interrogate the statement: "You are your synapses". While elements of their discussion would appear to spill into an argumentational "battlefield", Malabou suggests that neurobiology, philosophy and critique can be repositioned creatively (rather than combatitively) through the concept of neuroplasticity. The consonance that can be found here, she argues, transgresses both the neurobiological and the continental traditions; rather, it requires us to invent a new experimental and challenging form of philosophical enquiry.
"The term 'plasticity' ... is what allows us to mediate (according to me) the conflict between cognitivism and philosophy. We see paradoxically that if neurotransparency causes the illusion of subjectivity and reveals that we are no one, neuroplasticity - which is intimately linked with neurotransparency - on the contrary situates the brain as the core of our individual experiences and identity. We may be no one, but this impersonality is plastic, which means that this absence of subjectivity is paradoxically malleable, fashionable, so that each of us is each no one in our own way."

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