Fieldwork in skepticism: how an anthropologist learns to cultivate doubt and other virtues in a French neuroscience laboratory Contribute

Kahn Song | earned $0.02

Tobias Rees' frrst single-author book Plastic Reason, an anthropological study ofa French neuroscience laboratory that played a key role in the discovery of embryogenetic neuroplasticity in the human brain, is a book ofmany viItues and some vices and of vices that double as vlltues. Let us start with patience and impatience: after 14 years ofpainstaking labor, its author could not wait for his readers to engage and wrote a response to a kind and generous book review not yet written that got everything wrong about his book-"like aU book reviews, always" (Rees 2016b). Rees makes clear that he does not want to be lauded for having written the most comprehensive and yet enviably animated history of how adult neurogenesis came to be established as a scientific fact, proving the brain to be forever changing rather than [lXed. Even though that is what Rees did. Ormaybe he did not. Atleast, such a narrative would miss the native's point ofview. Just as Rees does not want to be praised for having written the history ofa great discovery, his most important interlocutor, Alain Prochiantz, did not want the anthropologist ofhis laboratory to praise him for having made that great discovery, either. "Iam not a man oftruth, but a man of doubt," he once proclaimed. "Ofdoubt, because doubt assures movement." (Rees 2016a: 222). Rees (2016b) found that the peculiar style of experimentation to which Prochiantz and his coworkers introduced him at their benches aimed at the cultivation of uncertainty: "What matters is the art ofmaking uncertainty productive - ofletting it derail yet another set up, of opening yet another, unforeseen horizon." Thus, Plastic Reason is not primarily about the neuroscientists' discovery ofadult neurogenesis, but about the anthropologist's discovery ofa w rather idiosyncratic style ofscientific thinking and doing

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