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Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity [Hardcover]

Raymond Tallis
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
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Book Description

26 May 2011

In a devastating critique Raymond Tallis exposes the exaggerated claims made for the ability of neuroscience and evolutionary theory to explain human consciousness, behaviour, culture and society.

While readily acknowledging the astounding progress neuroscience has made in helping us understand how the brain works, Tallis directs his guns at neuroscience’s dark companion – "Neuromania" as he describes it – the belief that brain activity is not merely a necessary but a sufficient condition for human consciousness and that consequently our everyday behaviour can be entirely understood in neural terms.

With the formidable acuity and precision of both clinician and philosopher, Tallis dismantles the idea that "we are our brains", which has given rise to a plethora of neuro-prefixed pseudo-disciplines laying claim to explain everything from art and literature to criminality and religious belief, and shows it to be confused and fallacious, and an abuse of the prestige of science, one that sidesteps a whole range of mind–body problems.

The belief that human beings can be understood essentially in biological terms is a serious obstacle, argues Tallis, to clear thinking about what human beings are and what they might become. To explain everyday behaviour in Darwinian terms and to identify human consciousness with the activity of the evolved brain denies human uniqueness, and by minimising the differences between us and our nearest animal kin, misrepresents what we are, offering a grotesquely simplified and degrading account of humanity. We are, shows Tallis, infinitely more interesting and complex than we appear in the mirror of biologism.

Combative, fearless and always thought-provoking, Aping Mankind is an important book, one that scientists, cultural commentators and policy-makers cannot ignore.


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Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity + The Kingdom of Infinite Space: A Fantastical Journey Around Your Head + Michelangelo's Finger: An Exploration of Everyday Transcendence
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge (26 May 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844652726
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844652723
  • Product Dimensions: 3.8 x 16.5 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 51,209 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

"Despite its mischievous title, Aping Mankind is a very serious book, and represents the author's current location in his decades-long stream of multifaceted thinking. Tallis has been called a polymath — he is a physician, philosopher, public speaker, and a prolific writer … Much of his speaking and writing over the past several decades has been deliberately controversial and engagingly argumentative, and Aping Mankind is no exception … The breadth of Tallis's familiarity and facility with the positions of others both in his own field and in others (such as the arts) is impressive throughout the book … The reader will find it richly rewarding, packed with thoughts worth sharing and ideas worth considering, and quite a lot of fun. For what more could we reasonably ask?" – Metapsychology Online

"This is an immensely valuable book because it makes us think hard about what we are and 'if any ideas are important, then ideas about the kind of creatures we are must be of supreme importance'. My bottom line is buy it and read it and then read it again and again and again … A landmark book." – Network Review

"A triumph of rational thought over the Darwinian afflictions that the author argues against in such an eloquent fashion" – The Quarterly Review of Biology

"A terrific book, though readers must be prepared to read it at least twice, not because it is in any sense obscure, but fully to appreciate the richness and subtlety of Tallis’s novel insights, with all their implications for our understanding of humanity’s precious attributes of freedom, intentionality and moral responsibility." – James Le Fanu, The Tablet

"A trenchant, lucid and witty attack on the reductive materialism of many scientific accounts of consciousness – not from a religious point of view, but that of an atheist humanist with a distinguished record in medicine and neuroscience." – David Lodge, The Guardian’s Books of the Year 2011

"Neuroscience, we are implausibly informed by white-coated Simon Baron-Cohen, will help dispense with evil. Who better to debunk its pretensions while instructing us in its uses than wise, literate Raymond Tallis, a neuroscientist himself, in his entertaining Aping Mankind." – George Walden, Evening Standard’s Best Books of the Year

"With erudition, wit and rigour, Tallis reveals that much of our current wisdom is as silly as bumps-on-the-head phrenology." – Jane O’Grady, The Observer

"Impassioned and intensely erudite." – Dominic Lawson, Sunday Times

"Brilliantly written . . . renowned polymath Raymond Tallis puts the picture back into much clearer perspective in his scathing exposé of neuroscientific narcissism." – Human Givens

"A pleasure to read. . . Tallis is fighting for a good cause." – Willem B. Drees, Times Higher

"This kind of personhood – the capacity, in fact the compulsion, to bring things together into some kind of coherent narrative, without which experience is not just senseless, but almost impossible, is what Tallis believes science cannot now explain. Anyone tempted to suppose that science has explained it even in principle – and that means almost all of us – should read him, and realise we’re wrong." – Andrew Brown, The Guardian

"an all-out assault on the exaggerated claims made on behalf of the biological sciences . . . an important work. Tallis is right to point out that a fundamental shift in our self-perception is under way and frequently going too far." – Stephen Cave, Financial Times

". . . a relentless assertion of common sense against a delusive but entrenched academic orthodoxy. Few books evince their authors’ complete mastery of his subject like Aping Mankind." – The New English Review

"A provocative, fascinating, and deeply paradoxical book. . . Tallis displays a wit and a turn of phrase which often made me howl with laughter." – Allan Chapman, Church Times

"A major and erudite statement of a position that is intellectually, morally and spiritually of the first importance to us living now." – Roger Scruton

"A splendid book. Tallis is right to say that current attempts to explain major elements of human life by brain-talk are fearfully misguided. He is exceptional in having both the philosophical grasp to understand what is wrong here and the scientific knowledge to expose it fully. He documents the gravity of this menace with real fire, venom and humour." – Mary Midgley

"A wonderful book and an important book, one that all neuroscientists should read. Tallis’s fearless criticism of the work of some distinguished contemporary academics and scientists and the rather ludicrous experimental paradigms of fMRI work needs to be made." – Simon Shorvon, UCL Institute of Neurology

"I strongly recommend this work to existential therapists and indeed to anyone who has ever asked the question of what it is to be human...Tallis writes eloquently and argues brilliantly" – Existential Analysis

About the Author

Raymond Tallis trained as a doctor before going on to become Professor of Geriatric Medicine at the University of Manchester. He was elected Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences for his research in clinical neuroscience. He retired from medicine in 2006 to become a full-time writer. He has written over a dozen books of cultural criticism, philosophy of mind and philosophical anthropology including, most recently, the acclaimed The Kingdom of Infinite Space. In 2009, The Economist's Intelligent Life magazine named him as one of the top living polymaths in the world.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
71 of 79 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A readable and penetrating polemic 12 July 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The doctrine that the brain is the sole source of mental phenomena is so firmly established in Western intellectual circles that it takes a brave thinker to challenge it. Raymond Tallis doesn't merely make the case against it, he tears into it with polemical gusto.

Tallis has no patience with scientism, the 'mistaken belief that the natural sciences can or will give a complete description and even explanation of everything, including human life'. He takes aim at the orthodox view of the brain, promoted aggressively by Daniel Dennett among others, that every mental phenomenon can be accounted for in terms of matter - the physical stuff of physics, chemistry, and physiology. Human behaviour and decision-making can't be reduced to what is going on in our brains, any more than it can be explained in terms of evolutionary adaptation, he thinks. Far from being chained to our evolutionary past, human consciousness has developed to the point that we have the ability to recognize and subvert the unconscious impulses that are supposed to drive us.

There are no punches pulled here. The idea underlying modern neuroscience, that nerve impulses can journey towards a place where they become consciousness, is plain 'barmy', Tallis thinks. He is scathing about Daniel Dennett's attempt to explain away intentionality by arguing that the inner life we ascribe to others is merely an 'interpretative device' and that nothing in reality corresponds to it. On the contrary, he argues, 'it is not out of mere interpretative convenience that we ascribe all sorts of intentional phenomena - perceptions, feelings, thoughts - to people; it is because the intentional phenomena are real, as we know from our own case.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
By Jug
Format:Hardcover
When a colleague told me that evolutionary psychologists had recently discovered that human beings had evolved to be social animals I was aghast. Having been a social psychologist myself for half a century and aware of at least two hundred years of the greatest minds studying people and their society, taking for granted we are all social beings, I was horrified that any discipline could claim to have 'discovered' this self-evident fact. I realised this was part of a turf war, fought with simple experiments using highly complicated brain mapping machines and unverifiable claims for evolutionary origins, to claim intellectual ownership of every conceivable aspect of human activity and experience from rape to religion. But it was not until I read Raymond Tallis' book that I realised just how deeply these neuro-Darwinian revolutionaries had penetrated into every aspect of our intellectual and professional life. He reveals how nothing is sacred to them whether it be the poems of John Donne or jurisprudence, appreciation of paintings or politics.

Fighting his way through this plethora of attempts to diminish human beings to little more than their biology and evolutionary history he shows with remarkable clarity and wit just how illogical and empirically unsound are their claims. He does this by starting with consideration of the basic biological building blocks of nerve cells and synapses then on to larger structures and the brain. At each stage he deftly shows that it is just not possible to explain the richness of human consciousness, interpersonal-contact and culture by reduction to biochemical processes.
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86 of 109 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mind how you go 28 Jun 2011
By Sphex
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is an important book, although not perhaps for the reasons the author would like. Having enjoyed reading Michelangelo's Finger: An Exploration of Everyday Transcendence and hearing Raymond Tallis talk in person on several occasions, I was looking forward to this, with some reservations. Unfortunately, those reservations have been aggravated rather than assuaged now that I'm reading the book. It has much to recommend it and it's also incredibly frustrating in places. I enjoy the breadth of his knowledge and his passionate advocacy of science (as a clinical neuroscientist he was "awestruck by the images that became available" towards the end of his career). Unlike many scientists, he appreciates the usefulness of philosophy in clearing the ground of conceptual muddles, and in this vein he has an admirable disdain for poststructuralism and other such intellectual fads.

A peculiar quality of this book, however, is that some aspects can both impress and frustrate, almost at the same time. For example, the bibliography runs to over fifteen pages, and represents an impressive range of primary publications and secondary reading. Tallis not only knows what he's talking about, he seems to know what everyone else is talking about. So, why can I, with a much smaller library of references, identify at least three or four books that are unaccountably absent? Now, I usually don't like critics who complain about what's missing, but occasionally I think such complaints can be justified.

For example, one of the major themes of the book explores, to put it crudely, the gap between matter and consciousness.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended.
For once the blurb is true. This book is erudite, well argued, balances argument with example and puts forward serious proposals instead of merely debunking. Read more
Published 3 months ago by "sctsystemic"
4.0 out of 5 stars A valuable antidote to the materialist view of mind
This is an excellent book that gives the reader a good introduction to neuroscience and its limitations. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Rod Parker
4.0 out of 5 stars Realigned my perception
Really opened my eyes to the extent that so much of what passes for science these days, and is taken for granted as being science and acted upon as such, is actually a travesty of... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Sheldon Cooper, B.S., M.S., M.A., Ph.D., Sc.D.,
3.0 out of 5 stars Hard to get into
Are we chemically-controlled brains on legs with no free will, or are we much more than that? Raymond Tallis attempts to tackle what the human brain is and isn't, and details the... Read more
Published 16 months ago by M. S. TUNSTALL
5.0 out of 5 stars Brillant Classic Tallis
I will not go on much as the other reviews particularly Robert McCluhan's review hits the nail on the head. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Stephen D. Echard
5.0 out of 5 stars A book to read and re-read
It's hard to think of a work of science or philosophy that would make you laugh out loud or punch the air with joy. 'Aping Manking' made me do both. Read more
Published on 6 Oct 2012 by Joe Humphreys
5.0 out of 5 stars much needed intellectual ammunition
Tallis rightfully ridiculously crude technology because it is being passed off as proper brain science. But his message is sort of buried in overly long paragraphs and words. Read more
Published on 23 Sep 2012 by Halifax Student Account
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought Provoking but not always Convincing
Aping Mankind does a lot to illustrate that both current neuroscience and evolutionary psychology are very blunt instruments when it comes to explaining the complexities of human... Read more
Published on 23 July 2012 by DK
5.0 out of 5 stars Neuropsychology of pain book
It will be very handy for those studying the neuropsychology of pain or just thinking about expanding understanding and knowledge in this area with a philosophical viewpoint
Published on 20 Feb 2012 by Kelly James
3.0 out of 5 stars I see it has already been said, but here is humanitis.
I have not read Straw Dogs, nor am I really inclined to accept Tallis's judgement of it as fair, but it seems to me that this book is to Humanitis as Straw Dogs is to... Read more
Published on 9 Feb 2012 by TAJG
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