The Medium Is the Message

While I do not uncritically endorse everything Marshall McLuhan claimed, there are certain quotes that ironically resonate with neuromythography.
The Medium Is the Message

One of the more original thinkers of the 20th century was media studies founder Marshall McLuhan, whose most famous quip is "The medium is the message." This pithy observation notes that new media, like radio and television, the Internet, mobile phones, and social networks, change the user in fundamental ways, and send an unconscious message to them in the very way that they are structured. The idea that something happens on a social media site, and that we have a reputation there to worry about, would be incomprehensible to past generations. While I do not uncritically endorse everything McLuhan said, and neuromythography is obviously not a subfield of media studies, there are certain quotes that have ironic parallels with neuromythography.

You cannot cope with vast amounts of information in the old fragmentary classified patterns. You tend to go looking for mythic and structural forms in order to manage such complex data.— Marshall McLuhan

Neuromythography is quite plainly an attempt to cope with the vast amounts of complex neuroscience information by engineering mythic forms to distill it.

Provide shortcuts to old knowledge by organizing information, and explore means to discover new knowledge by organizing ignorance.— Marshall McLuhan

Neuromythography links old ideas to 'neural correlates' through interpreting the neuroscience literature. The canonical neuromemex organizes ignorance--the existence of these biological entities, the fragmentary insights from the neuroscience literature, and speculative archetype personifications.

The job of the teacher is to save the student time.— Marshall McLuhan

The neuromemex is a compendium of distilled neuroscience information, curating thousands of neuroscience studies into an annotated subset that is heavily interlinked. Instead of doing literature searches based on keywords, or getting taught by textbooks and lectures, you can explore the neuromemex yourself. It contains jumpgates to many interesting frontiers of ignorance.

Every word ever uttered is a metaphor. The word is not the thing: the word presents, translates the thing. It gives one kind of experience as another kind of experience, direct awareness as speech.— Eric McLuhan

Marshall McLuhan's son Eric observed, as many have, that words put spins on things. Neuromythography is transparently metaphorical, while theory--a word that in the original Greek means 'something having the properties of a god'--maintains a pretense of unearned objectivity. Hayek and Popper coined the term 'scientism' to refer to theories that have slipped too far back into literal belief in pantheons.

The grandson of Marshall McLuhan, Andrew, is a keen observer of words and media. ​Neuromythography was borne of dissatisfaction with philosophy and social science constructs, theories that fall under the scientism category of Hayek and Popper, a priori reifications that seek validation in neuroscience instead of reform. Rather than merely criticize, we show an alternative interpretation through art, consistent with the school of humanities. ​​

The medium is the message. – Marshall McLuhan

This quip uncannily applies to the brain. Every neurotransmitter is a medium--an information channel with intrinsic meaning. Downstream, the receptor binds with it, and both neurotransmitter and receptor are expended in the process. Repeated signaling not only causes the downstream neuron to respond, but change in fundamental ways (neuroplasticity).

We can also extend this to brain areas. The message of neuromythography is to pay close attention to the medium through which consciousness proceeds--the individual brain areas that are genetically-specified and seem to have personalities. Categorical distinctions we made between episodic and working memory, data and processor, logical and emotional, do not really physically exist. This allows us to see past psychology words that do not turn out to map well to the brain.

About the author
Steven Florek

Steven Florek

Steven Florek is the creator of neuromythography and founder of Neuromemex.

The Neuromythography Institute

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