Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Neuro-Skepticism of Raymond Tallis

Raymond Tallis gives a thoughtful and witty debunking of "neuromania and Darwinitis" in his essay "A mind of one's own." He critiques two books that claim to solve "the hard problem of consciousness" but fail to do so: Soul Dust: the Magic of Consciousness, by Nicholas Humphrey, and  Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain, by Antonio Damasio. The "hard problem" is this: "how it is that a piece of matter such as a human organism (or its brain) can have conscious experiences, items that do not seem of a nature that can be conjured out of matter alone."

We see what Tallis is up to in this quote from another of his essays:

"Our failure to explain consciousness in terms of neural activity inside the brain inside the skull is not due to technical limitations which can be overcome. It is due to the self-contradictory nature of the task, of which the failure to explain "aboutness", the unity and multiplicity of our awareness, the explicit presence of the past, the initiation of actions, the construction of self are just symptoms. We cannot explain "appearings" using an objective approach that has set aside appearings as unreal and which seeks a reality in mass/energy that neither appears in itself nor has the means to make other items appear. The brain, seen as a physical object, no more has a world of things appearing to it than does any other physical object."


"Darwinitis" is: "This is the claim that Darwinian theory can not only explain the biological origins of the organism H. sapiens, but also the manifestations of everyday human life – our cultural leaves as well as our biological roots."

Tallis's New Humanist essay "Neurotrash" debunks the idea that "we are our brains." As well as the idea that "a particular part of the brain lights up in response to a particular stimulus, this is not the whole story."