Taking care of one's brain: How manipulating the brain changes people's selves

Jonna Brenninkmeijer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The increasing attention to the brain in science and the media, and people's continuing quest for a better life, have resulted in a successful self-help industry for brain enhancement. Apart from brain books, foods and games, there are several devices on the market that people can use to stimulate their brains and become happier, healthier or more successful. People can, for example, switch their brain state into relaxation or concentration with a light-and-sound machine, they can train their brainwaves to cure their Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or solve their sleeping problems with a neurofeedback device, or they can influence the firing of their neurons with electric or magnetic stimulation to overcome their depression and anxieties. Working on your self with a brain device can be seen as a contemporary form of Michel Foucault's 'technologies of the self'. Foucault described how since antiquity people had used techniques such as reading manuscripts, listening to teachers, or saying prayers to 'act on their selves' and control their own thoughts and behaviours. Different techniques, Foucault stated, are based on different precepts and constitute different selves. I follow Foucault by stating that using a brain device for self-improvement indeed constitutes a new self. Drawing on interviews with users of brain devices and observations of the practices in brain clinics, I analyse how a new self takes shape in the use of brain devices; not a monistic (neuroscientific) self, but a 'layered' self of all kinds of entities that exchange and control each other continuously.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-126
Number of pages20
JournalHistory of the Human Sciences
Volume23
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb-2010

Keywords

  • brain
  • brain devices
  • self
  • self-enhancement
  • technologies of the self
  • TRANSCRANIAL MAGNETIC STIMULATION
  • BODIES
  • HEALTH

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