Science lets us see better: we can see ever deeper the inner workings of the brain, we can image and visualize, scan and probe. We are mapping the functional areas and the interrelationships between them and, as we do so, developing new language to describe it, new and deeper understanding. And therein lies the trap.
We are creatures, not mechanisms: understanding the circuitry will not explain the thing. Reductionist approaches will let us document and measure, but we cannot flip them around and assume that this understanding will construct new approaches to learning, new approaches to performance. The brain is complex and plastic, adaptable and glorious.
Don’t misunderstand: neurology will inform us. It will led us understand learning, understand actions, understand how things work. But that knowledge alone will not let us control, predict or determine. It will inform us.
We are complex creatures, interacting in multivariate, evolving and stubborn ways. We can learn more about the circuitry, more about the functions, but we should not assume that this understanding gives us power.
Computers can paint a picture, but that does not make them an artist. Computers can write songs, but that does not make them creative. Computers can analyze the brain, but that does not make them wise. And our ability to wield the technology does not make us wise either.
I see too much written about how ‘neuro’ will transform learning, transform leadership, even transform coaching. But it won’t. If we are humble, if we remain open, if we learn from them, we may improve, but they are not a magic bullet and, if we abuse the power, they will prove to be a poison chalice.
We are making vast leaps in our understanding of how the brain works, we should learn from it, and learn to learn from it. But we are far, far away from seeing levers that we can pull, far far away from any fictitious programming approach.
The ways we learn, the ways we lead: these are not art not science, because the dichotomy is false. We are complex creatures of art and science: understanding the mechanics will not transform us. If we are lucky, if we are willing to learn, it may let us appreciate the picture better, hear the internal songs more clearly, inform and inspire us in our professional practice. But it will not be, not should we seek, the rule book, the blueprints, the instructions.