Here’s a useful and enjoyable item at Brian Leiter’s blog – the full version of a letter to the Guardian by Rae Langton and John Dupré.
Your headline reads ‘Male and female brains wired differently, scans reveal‘ (2 December 2013). What do scans reveal? ‘Maps of neural circuitry show women’s brains are designed for social skills and memory, men’s for perception and co-ordination’. Yet another deeply confused ‘hard-wired brain’ story. It has received much comment, not least for the empirical mismatch between the data and the conclusion, given that the cited study apparently provides ‘strong evidence for behavioural similarities between the sexes’ (Cordelia Fine, https://theconversation.com/new-insights-into-gendered-brain-wiring-or-a-perfect-case-study-in-neurosexism-21083). But there is something even more basic at stake.
Please, please, will scientists, science journalists, and readers wake up to this truism: if the mind is the brain, any mental difference will be a brain difference. Suppose there are some actual mental differences between men and women, whatever their prior causes. (Hard to imagine training up half of humanity one way, half another, without creating some differences between them.) There will then be some neural differences. Suppose you have two televisions, whose images are different. You call in the technician, who trumpets the discovery that they differ in their pattern of pixels. How remarkable! Actually, no. That bit we knew already: no difference in the images without a difference in the pixels. Same for ourselves: no difference in states of mind without a difference in states of brain. That doesn’t mean it has to be that way, or is designed to be that way. Even if your mind is your brain, that doesn’t mean ‘your brain made you do it’—as if the ‘you’ were a different being, a soul puppet whose strings are pulled by your neurons. Let’s not fall for this confusion, or we’ll take what happens to be the case, and freeze it. We’ll take differences, however they may have come about, and make them seem inevitable and appropriate. We don’t need this deterministic fairy-tale. It’s bad for men and women, bad for science, bad for us all.
No one will listen, of course.