A human being is a psychological, physiological and social entity’, stated already my high-school psychology textbook 25 years ago. However, the integration of these aspects has been slow to emerge at brain research laboratories. Now the interaction between the body and the brain is resurging in science, however, and the theory of embodied cognition is getting modern applications.
The functional connection of the gut, heart and entire body with the brain is now researched as a part of psychological and somatic health. Also, the influence of physical fitness and exercise on learning has been proven. Signalling from the body to the brain seems to be at least as important as that from the brain to the body.
The core hub of human information processing, the brain, has been taken out of its glass jar and put in its rightful place as a part of the overall bodily system. And most importantly, an individual is also seen as an integral part of a community.
The most radical theories are based on the supposition that human mind must principally be studied through interaction. If this is true, we cannot ignore community even when we study an individual as a separate entity – interaction has been coded into the brain-body system. This brings the biological preconditions of experience and information processing into the same arena with social phenomena, such as social exclusion, political dialogue, well-being in work communities, and the challenges of immigrant integration.
This arena provides a fertile ground for interesting studies that can open new prospects for science and bring new insights into the health and well-being of individuals and communities.
As always, attractive speculations and surprising new discoveries may easily lead to premature interpretations and short-lived scientific theories. Therefore, it is important to keep one’s feet firmly on the ground and hope that the lately much talked-about concepts of scientific criteria i.e. replication and reproducibility, will spread from Tweets to the publication policies of science journals as well.
Scepticism is a cornerstone for achieving reliable scientific knowledge, but we should also question our own presuppositions. Indeed, interaction has its place also in scientific practice – only an interactive science community can provide a fruitful combination of scepticism and innovative thinking.
Open science can take scientific interaction to a whole new level. When the science community is no longer exposed just to the final outcome of the process but is instead provided with the entirety of materials, experimental designs and hypotheses, it is possible to utilise the shared resources for critical thinking and new insights, within the whole community.
Despite the prevailing practice of teamwork in science, we are used to thinking that insight occurs individually, within just a single mind. What if the significance of interaction also reaches deep into the core of scientific reasoning? What if interaction is an integral part of our nervous system because only dialogue with another thinker can open the doors to solving the most challenging problems?
Programme Director Kaisa Korhonen-Kurki from the Academy of Finland writes in her blog about the power of dialogue as a part of the solution to so-called wicked problems, i.e. complex social challenges. These require interdisciplinary and multi-level perspectives.
One example of efforts to increase knowledge about the integration of psychological, physiological and social aspects is a recently started collaborative project at our own University. It brings together expertise from the fields of communication studies, brain research, work psychology, and social policy, for instance. The project examines various factors affecting well-being at media work, ranging from individual body physiology up to professional demands due to digitalisation and changes in working conditions.
When we aim at integrated understanding of the psychological, physiological and social aspects of a competent, healthy human being, interdisciplinary scientific dialogue is necessary. Moreover, cherishing the culture of open, bold and rigorous science, we here at the University of Jyväskylä are doing our own part for solving the wicked problems of society. And if we can predict the trends and major challenges of the future, we can reach solutions to problems even before they become utterly wicked.
The author is the director of Jyväskylä Centre for Interdisciplinary Brain Research (CIBR) and a Senior Researcher at the Department of Psychology.
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