Reading the Human Brain: How the Mind Became Legible

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The human body was made legible long ago. But what of the human mind? Is it
possible to ‘read’ the mind, for one human being to know what another is thinking or feeling, their beliefs and intentions. And if I can read your mind, how about others – could our authorities, in the criminal justice system or the security services? Some developments in contemporary neuroscience suggest the answer to question is ‘yes’. While philosophers continue to debate the mind-brain problem, a range of novel technologies of brain imaging have been used to argue that specific mental states, and even specific thoughts, can be identified by characteristic patterns of brain activation; this has led some to propose their use in practices ranging from lie detection and security screening to the assessment of brain activity in persons in persistent vegetative states. This article reviews the history of these developments, sketches their scientific and technical bases, considers some of the epistemological and ontological mutations involved, explores the ecological niches where they have found a hospitable environment, and considers some implications of this materialization of the readable, knowable, transparent mind.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)144-170
JournalBody and Society
Issue number2
Early online date12 Jan 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2016


  • brain imaging
  • mind reading
  • neural lie detection
  • P300 wave
  • theory of mind
  • thought identification


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