“The only way for interaction with Iran is dialogue on an equal footing, confidence-building and mutual respect as well as reducing antagonism and aggression,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a speech after taking the oath of office last August.
“If you want the right response, don’t speak with Iran in the language of sanctions, speak in the language of respect.”
In the following article, Nicholas Wright and Karim Sadjadpour describe how an understanding of neuroscience — or lack of it — may determine the outcome of negotiations with Iran.
The whole piece is worth reading, but keep this in mind: every single insight that gets attributed to neuroscience has been clearly established without the need to conduct a single brain scan. Indeed, everything that is here being attributed to the “exquisite neural machinery” of the brain can be understood by studying the workings of the human mind and how thought shapes behavior.
It is important to draw a sharp distinction between the examination of the mind and observing the workings of the brain because the latter is totally dependent on the output of intermediary electronic scanning devices, whereas minds can study themselves and each other directly and through shared language.
One of the insidious effects of neuroscience is that it promotes a view that understanding the ways brains work has greater intrinsic value than understanding how minds work. What the negotiations with Iran demonstrate, however, is that the exact opposite is true.
To the extent that through the development of trust, negotiations are able to advance, this will have nothing to do with anyone’s confidence about what is happening inside anyone’s brain. On the contrary, it will depend on a meeting of minds and mutual understanding. No one will need to understand what is happening in their own or anyone else’s insula cortex, but what will most likely make or break the talks will be whether the Iranians believe they are being treated fairly. The determination of fairness does not depend on the presence or absence of a particular configuration of neural activity but rather on an assessment of reality.
Treat us as equals, Iran’s president said — and that was almost 15 years ago!
Nicholas Wright and Karim Sadjadpour write: “Imagine being told that you cannot do what everyone else is doing,” appealed Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in a somber YouTube message defending the country’s nuclear program in November. “Would you back down? Would you relent? Or would you stand your ground?”
While only 14 nations, including Iran, enrich uranium (e.g. “what everyone else is doing”), Zarif’s message raises a question at the heart of ongoing talks to implement a final nuclear settlement with Tehran: Why has the Iranian government subjected its population to the most onerous sanctions regime in contemporary history in order to do this? Indeed, it’s estimated that Iran’s antiquated nuclear program needs one year to enrich as much uranium as Europe’s top facility produces in five hours.
To many, the answer is obvious: Iran is seeking a nuclear weapons capability (which it has arguably already attained), if not nuclear weapons. Yet the numerous frameworks used to explain Iranian motivations—including geopolitics, ideology, nationalism, domestic politics, and threat perception—lead analysts to different conclusions. Does Iran want nuclear weapons to dominate the Middle East, or does it simply want the option to defend itself from hostile opponents both near and far? While there’s no single explanation for Tehran’s actions, if there is a common thread that connects these frameworks and may help illuminate Iranian thinking, it is the brain.
Although neuroscience can’t be divorced from culture, history, and geography, there is no Orientalism of the brain: The fundamental biology of social motivations is the same in Tokyo, Tehran, and Tennessee. It anticipates, for instance, how the mind’s natural instinct to reject perceived unfairness can impede similarly innate desires for accommodation, and how fairness can lead to tragedy. It tells us that genuinely conciliatory gestures are more likely and natural than many believe, and how to make our own conciliatory gestures more effective.
Distilled to their essence, nations are led by and comprised of humans, and the success of social animals like humans rests on our ability to control the balance between cooperation and self-interest. The following four lessons from neuroscience may help us understand the obstacles that were surmounted to reach an interim nuclear deal with Iran, and the enormous challenges that still must be overcome in order to reach a comprehensive agreement. [Continue reading…]