In “Rethinking Thinking: How a lumpy bunch of tissue lets us plan, perceive, calculate, reflect, imagine—and exercise free will,” (Wall Street Journal, November 12, 2011), Raymond Tallis (that atheist doctor who got sick of neuromania and Darwinitis and decided to start telling it like it is),
These beliefs are closely connected. If the brain is an evolved organ, shaped by natural selection to ensure evolutionary success (as it most surely is), and if the mind is the brain and nothing more, then the mind and all those things we are minded to do can be explained by the evolutionary imperative. The mind is a cluster of apps or modules securing the replication of the genes that are expressed in our bodies.
Many in the humanities have embraced these views with astonishing fervor. New disciplines, prefixed by “neuro” or “evolutionary” or even “neuro-evolutionary,” have been invented.
He introduced us to two thoughtful new books questioning the deafening quackery:
“Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged From Matter” by Terrence Deacon, a professor of neuroscience and anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, does not deliver on its subtitle, but the author acknowledges the depth and complexity of the problem. This mighty work of scholarship is long, slow-moving and peppered with neologisms, but it is infinitely preferable to the flashy tomes of the Professors of Legerdemain who assure us that the mind could emerge from matter in the brain “just like that” simply because “the brain is the most complex object in the world.”
He also looks at Gazzaniga’s “Who’s in Charge?, noting,
Unlike many in his profession, Mr. Gazzaniga is philosophically sophisticated. He believes that, while the brain “enables” the mind, mental activity is not reducible to neural events. While he states that thoughts, perceptions, memories, intentions and the exercise of the will are emergent phenomena, he adds that “calling a property emergent does not explain it or how it came to be.”
Good books to look out for, and handy antidotes when the TV hair model assures everyone that “neuroscience has now discovered why we give to charity, een though it’s not in our evolutionary interests ….”
See also: Pioneer neuroscientist: Defining social life in terms of biology “a fool’s game”
and Can materialist theories help us learn to do the right thing?
Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose)