Raymond Tallis, nearly thirty years in clinical neuroscience, diagnoses the problem here (“A mind of one’s own”, 24 February 2011):
The republic of letters is in thrall to an unprecedented scientism. The word is out that human consciousness – from the most elementary tingle of sensation to the most sophisticated sense of self – is identical with neural activity in the human brain and that this extraordinary metaphysical discovery is underpinned by the latest findings in neuroscience. Given that the brain is an evolved organ, and, as the evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky said, nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution, the neural explanation of human consciousness demands a Darwinian interpretation of our behaviour. The differences between human life in the library or the operating theatre and animal life in the jungle or the savannah are more apparent than real: at the most, matters of degree rather than kind.These beliefs are based on elementary errors. Just because neural activity is a necessary condition of consciousness, it does not follow that it is a sufficient condition of consciousness, still less that it is identical with it. And Darwinising human life confuses the organism Homo sapiens with the human person, biological roots with cultural leaves. Nevertheless, the coupling of neuromania and Darwinitis has given birth to emerging disciplines based on neuro-evolutionary approaches to human psychology, economics, social science, literary criticism, aesthetics, theology and the law.
These pseudo-disciplines are flourishing in academe and are covered extensively in the popular press, in articles usually accompanied by a brain scan (described by the writer Matt Crawford as a “fast-acting solvent of critical faculties”). Only last month, David Brooks asserted in the New Yorker that “brain science helps fill the hole left by the atrophy of theology and philosophy”.
One thing about people like Tallis speaking up is that it raises the bar from maybe .01 cm off the floor to something serious.
Apparently, Tallis’s New Statesman column will reappear in fuller form as a book this summer. Gotta have it.