A new article in History of the Human Sciences may interest AHP readers: “For or against the molecularization of brain science?: Cybernetics, interdisciplinarity, and the unprogrammed beginning of the Neurosciences Research Program at MIT,” by Youjung Shin. Abstract:
It was no accident that the first neuroscience community, the Neurosciences Research Program (NRP), took shape in the 1960s at MIT, the birthplace of cybernetics. Francis O. Schmitt, known as the founding father of the NRP, was a famous biologist and an avid reader of cybernetics. Focusing on the intellectual and institutional context that Schmitt was situated in, this article unveils the way that the brain was conceptualized as a distinct object, requiring the launch of a new research community in the US. In doing so, this article moves beyond the dominant narratives on the triumph of molecularization of the brain at the beginning of neuroscience. Instead, it argues that what brought researchers together in the name of neuroscience was not just a molecule but an aspiration to develop biological theories of the brain/mind, which resonated with biologists in a postwar context and was materialized through support for basic research. The article highlights the tension over the computerization and molecularization of the brain, which shaped the interdisciplinary gathering of neuroscientists in the context of growing interest in basic research. Thereby, this article reveals the rise of theoretical concerns in brain science that reflect the distinct desires and concerns of biologists in the US at an intellectual and institutional level. By revisiting the launch of the NRP with a focus on Schmitt, the article sheds light on the historical contingencies in launching the new community as neuroscience in the US and their meaning for the locality and transiency of (inter)disciplinarity in brain science.