Article ID: CBB001221638

Transcending Disciplines: Scientific Styles in Studies of the Brain in Mid-Twentieth Century America (2012)


Much scholarship in the history of cybernetics has focused on the far-reaching cultural dimensions of the movement. What has garnered less attention are efforts by cyberneticians such as Warren McCulloch and Norbert Wiener to transform scientific practice in an array of disciplines in the biomedical sciences, and the complex ways these efforts were received by members of traditional disciplines. In a quest for scientific unity that had a decidedly imperialistic flavour, cyberneticians sought to apply practices common in the exact sciences---mainly theoretical modeling---to problems in disciplines that were traditionally defined by highly empirical practices, such as neurophysiology and neuroanatomy. Their efforts were met with mixed, often critical responses. This paper attempts to make sense of such dynamics by exploring the notion of a scientific style and its usefulness in accounting for the contrasts in scientific practice in brain research and in cybernetics during the 1940s. Focusing on two key institutional contexts of brain research and the role of the Rockefeller and Macy Foundations in directing brain research and cybernetics, the paper argues that the conflicts between these fields were not simply about experiment vs. theory but turned more closely on the questions that defined each area and the language used to elaborate answers.

Citation URI

Similar Citations

Book Gross, Charles G.; (1998)
Brain, Vision, Memory: Tales in the History of Neuroscience (/isis/citation/CBB000410895/)

Book Hagner, Michael; (2006)
Der Geist bei der Arbeit: historische Untersuchungen zur Hirnforschung (/isis/citation/CBB000775211/)

Book Frank W. Stahnisch; (2020)
A New Field in Mind: A History of Interdisciplinarity in the Early Brain Sciences (/isis/citation/CBB376085655/)

Article Droz Mendelzweig, Marion; (2010)
La plasticité cérébrale de Cajal à Kandel: cheminement d'une notion constitutive du sujet cérébral (/isis/citation/CBB001034701/)

Article Casper, Stephen T.; (2015)
Of Means and Ends: Mind and Brain Science in the Twentieth Century (/isis/citation/CBB001551999/)

Book Rocca, Julius; Galen, ; (2003)
Galen on the Brain: Anatomical Knowledge and Physiological Speculation in the Second Century, A.D. (/isis/citation/CBB000320212/)

Book Andrieu, Bernard; (2003)
Le laboratoire du cerveau psychologique: histoire et modèles (/isis/citation/CBB000954366/)

Article Cimino, Guido; (2006)
Introduction: For a Comparative History of the Birth of “Scientific” Psychology (/isis/citation/CBB001023619/)

Article Stahnisch, Frank W.; (2012)
The Emergence of Nervennahrung: Nerves, Mind and Metabolism in the Long Eighteenth Century (/isis/citation/CBB001221623/)

Article Ash, Mitchell; (2006)
Psychologie als Wissenschaft und Beruf seit 1850: Ansichten eines Historikers (/isis/citation/CBB001023521/)

Article Lazar, J. Wayne; (2012)
Brain Physiology and the Mind in the Nineteenth Century (/isis/citation/CBB001211259/)

Article S Robert Snodgrass; (2018)
Stanley Cobb, the Rockefeller Foundation and the evolution of American psychiatry (/isis/citation/CBB193867677/)

Book Michael R. Trimble; (2016)
The Intentional Brain: Motion, Emotion, and the Development of Modern Neuropsychiatry (/isis/citation/CBB482521549/)

Article Elan D. Louis; (2021)
The Neurological Study Unit: “A Combined Attack on a Single Problem from Many Angles” (/isis/citation/CBB571180722/)

Authors & Contributors
Stahnisch, Frank W.
Casper, Stephen T.
Andrieu, Bernard
Snodgrass, S. Robert
Bassiri, Nima Rad
Trimble, Michael K.
Journal of the History of the Neurosciences
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Science in Context
Revue d'Histoire des Sciences
Physis: Rivista Internazionale di Storia della Scienza
History of Psychiatry
Wallstein Verlag
MIT Press
McGill-Queen's University Press
Johns Hopkins University Press
CNRS Éditions
Kandel, Eric Richard
Haller, Albrecht von
Whytt, Robert
Weed, Lewis H.
Von Neumann, John
Ramón y Cajal, Santiago
Time Periods
20th century
19th century
20th century, early
17th century
18th century
United States
Rome (Italy)
Rockefeller Foundation
Yale University
Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, Md.)
Harvard University

Be the first to comment!

{{ comment.created_by.username }} on {{ comment.created_on | date:'medium' }}

Log in or register to comment