Medical technicians in Singapore conduct MRI brain scans on a Kimodo dragon, August 2003.
David Loh / Reuters

If you’ve ever listened to a TED Talk or read a popular science book about human behavior, chances are good that you’ve heard fascinating insights about humanity that were based on the results of brain imaging technology: why and how we fall in love, how we experience music, how creativity works, and much more. Advances in neuroscience and fMRI (magnetic resonance imaging) technology are giving researchers an unprecedented look into the chemical and neurological functioning of the brain. They have also fueled pop-neuroscience, in which fMRI scans seem to hold the power to reveal everything about the way we work. The allure is understandable.

And indeed, it is easy to embrace claims from such studies uncritically. They are brain scans, after all. And they are alluringly simple: it takes neither a rocket- nor a neuro-scientist to discern that in two side-by-side photos of brains, the one labeled “when

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