Knowledge in the neurosciences and related disciplines is expanding exponentially. Recent years have witnessed a growing excitement about the possibility that complex domains of mental function and behavior will soon be susceptible to scientific elucidation. Important findings have arisen from traditional disciplines of inquiry, and indeed these traditional disciplines have proven remarkably successful at expanding knowledge.
These successes, however, also bring into relief the limits of disciplinary inquiry. The increasing specialization that accompanies rapid growth in a field means that fewer and fewer scientists are currently attempting to make integrative connections with facts and perspectives from other disciplines. This is unfortunate, since in fact there is reason to believe that some of the most exciting thinking and research of the future will occur at the boundaries between disciplines.
Moreover, many critical problems facing humanity cannot be understood from a single perspective. Currently, scholars in a position to provide rich and vital perspectives on human behavior often work and theorize in an intellectual environment divorced from, and often suspicious of, modern knowledge about the brain. For their part, many brain scientists give little thought to the ways in which their theories are shaped by their philosophical commitments and the larger values they have absorbed from their sociocultural context. Nor do they give sufficient thought to the impact of their theories and discoveries on general human self-understanding and therefore on policy and action.
In 1993, former President Rudenstine sought to address the fragmentation of knowledge and the difficulties of communication across disciplinary and departmental boundaries by creating five University-wide inter-faculty initiatives. The Mind/Brain/Behavior Initiative (MBB) was established to bring the perspectives of neuroscience into sustained and constructive dialogue with those of other natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities. The MBB Initiative, by bringing together diverse representatives from Harvard's different schools and disciplines, hopes to provide an alternative to the self-reinforcing isolation of scholarship.
The mission of MBB is to utilize insights gained from interdisciplinary discourse to improve human self-understanding, to educate both faculty and students in new paradigms to understand human experience and behavior, and to foster collaborative research that would not be feasible within traditional disciplinary boundaries. University faculty participate in MBB in a variety of ways. Some faculty with a particularly strong commitment to undergraduate education serve on the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Standing Committee on Mind, Brain, and Behavior, and several members of this group head the MBB tracks in participating concentrations. Other faculty may advise students in these tracks, others teach required and elective courses in the tracks, and still others have laboratory projects or research programs in which track students may participate.
Undergraduates interested in studying the many disciplines comprising MBB are thus attending Harvard at a particularly exciting time. The University has committed its enthusiasm and resources to developing undergraduate programs in MBB by taking advantage of both the intellectual innovations possible in new combinations of traditional disciplines and the knowledge and structure those traditional disciplines provide. The Computer Science, History and Science, Human Evolutionary Biology, Linguistics, Neurobiology, Philosophy, and Psychology concentrations have developed tracks that integrate basic disciplinary coursework, MBB foundational coursework common to all tracks, and elective selections that reflect individual student interests. To recognize the special character of such study at the undergraduate level, the undergraduate programs in MBB will award students in participating tracks Certificates in Mind/Brain/Behavior in addition to their A.B. degrees. Students outside these concentrations, or students in these concentrations who do not wish to pursue these integrated honors tracks, may pursue a secondary field in Mind/Brain/Behavior. Upon completing course requirements for this program, the MBB secondary field will be noted on student transcripts.