In “Raymond Tallis Takes Out the ‘Neurotrash’” (Chronicle Review, October 9, 2011), Marc Parry tries to understand why an atheist neuroscientist is sick and tired of “neurotrash.”
And Tallis isn’t even alone. Just better known. Parry, who doesn’t get too far with the project, tells us,
Perhaps the harshest reaction comes from Dennett, an influential U.S. philosopher whose books square human life with science. He sympathizes with Tallis’s concerns. But what every philosopher should know is that any philosopher—Plato, Hume, Kant, take your pick—”can be made to look like a flaming idiot if you oversimplify and caricature them,” Dennett tells me.
“Tallis indulges in refutation by caricature,” says Dennett, a professor of philosophy and co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University. “He’s not taking his opponents seriously. He’s sneering instead of arguing. He’s ignoring the complexities of the arguments. So he’s not really doing philosophy. He’s doing propaganda.”
At least Dennett takes the bait. Two other Tallis targets, John Gray and the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, declined to be interviewed for this story. Some find Tallis’s arguments so “tiresome” they won’t debate him in public, says one friend, Simon Shorvon, a professor of clinical neurology at University College London.
That’s unprecedented, right? Oh wait. It isn’t. Relax, there probably is no Dawkins anyway.
Reporter Parry, it must be charitably said, cannot imagine a world in which neuroscience is not dominated by celebrity poseurs, social engineers, and hucksters. Today, that is science, with a few honourable exceptions. Some neuroscientists can imagine it, however.
Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose
Tallis on free will and the brain: