I’ve got a piece in today’s Observer looking back on 20 years since novelist Tom Wolfe wrote a landmark article that threw open the doors on how the new science of cognitive neuroscience was challenging the notion of the self.
Exactly 20 years ago, Tom Wolfe wrote one of the most influential articles in neuroscience. Titled Sorry, But Your Soul Just Died, the 1996 article explores how ideas from brain science were beginning to transform our understanding of human nature and extend the horizons of our scientific imagination. It was published in a mainstream magazine, written by an outsider, and seemed to throw open the doors to an exhilarating revolution in science and self-understanding. Looking at the state of neuroscience and society two decades later, Wolfe turned out to be an insightful but uneven prophet to the brain’s future.
Wolfe’s article has been cited widely by both neuroscientists and the popular press.
It’s not entirely clear whether it shaped our popular understanding of brain science or whether it just predicted a future trend but it’s notable that before 1996 most press articles on fMRI were focused on technical details but subsequently they tended to be much more about ‘the brain reason for’ some aspect of human thought or behaviour.
Either way, it was clearly an important moment for neuroscience and my piece in The Observer looks back on Wolfe’s take on our changing view of human nature with the benefit of 20 years of brain science behind us.
And just to say, I occasionally have a bit of a grumble about the headlines written for my articles but hats off to however came up with “Neuroscience and the premature death of the soul” for this piece.