From The Guardian:
We are in the middle of a debate about the status of neuroscience. Against the deceptive allure of neuroimaging and reported sightings of “brain centres” for everything from sarcasm to religious experience, there are stern reassurances that, if we were ever to work out the scientific basis of consciousness, it would be too complicated for us to understand. Is neuroscience really changing the way we comprehend ourselves?
If tracing behaviour and experience to its neural underpinnings really offers a new understanding of humanity, aren't novelists bound to draw on it in revealing how their characters understand themselves? In one sense, neuro-explanations seem to challenge the mechanisms by which novels work. Neuroscientists warn us that we may have no freewill, no “self” at the helm; their work shows that our memories are leaky reconstructions and that even our visual perception of the world is a system of illusions. How do these messages change what we do, how we feel, how we decide to live? Fiction is a perfect medium for exploring these questions. A 2009 article by Marco Roth in n+1 magazine pointed out that neuroscience in fiction is often connected with atypical and pathological behaviour. For example, Gary Lambert's depression in Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections gives a central role to his screwy neurotransmitters, but we don't get neuro-explanations for the (debatably) more sane members of the Lambert family. Richard Powers's The Echo Maker is more interested in the brain-damaged patient, Mark Schluter, than with the science-inflected self-descriptions of his neuropsychologist, Gerald Weber.