Is religious fundamentalism a form of mental illness? That's what Kathleen Taylor, a researcher at the University of Oxford and author of three books on neuroscience, suggested this week, according to Huffington Post. In the future, Taylor said, brain researchers may learn so much about the neural basis of fundamentalism that they can cure people of it.
"Someone who has for example become radicalized to a cult ideology--we might stop seeing that as a personal choice that they have chosen as a result of pure free will and may start treating it as some kind of mental disturbance," Taylor explained. "In many ways it could be a very positive thing because there are no doubt beliefs in our society that do a heck of a lot of damage."
What an intriguing idea! The mission of Obama's BRAIN Initiative should perhaps be expanded to include elimination of evangelical Christianity, especially when coupled with membership in the Tea Party. But why stop with wacky religious and political convictions? There are lots of other irrational beliefs out there that science should try to cure people of. Some examples:
Belief that string theory and multiverses are legitimate scientific propositions and not just science fiction with equations. Belief that snazzy new mathematical models running on ever more powerful computers will help the social sciences become as rigorous as nuclear physics. Belief that evolutionary psychology represents psychology's final, triumphant paradigm instead of just another fad. Belief that behavioral genetics will soon transcend its embarrassing record of bogus claims—the gay gene, God gene, warrior gene, high-IQ gene, and so on--and become a credible field. Belief that drugs like SSRIs represent a huge advance over psychoanalysis and other "talking cures" for mental illness. Belief that humanity is headed toward a Singularity, when we all turn into software and live happily ever after in cyberspace.
Finally, wouldn't it be nice if neuroscience could cure people of irrational, excessive faith in neuroscience?