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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
Biologism -- the belief that human beings are essentially animals and can be understood in biological terms -- is gaining increasing acceptance in contemporary thought. This trend is seemingly legitimised by genuine, often spectacular, advances in biological science: in human genetics, evolutionary theory and neuroscience. Our propensities, we are told, can be accounted for by "a gene for" this or that; everyday behaviour can be explained in Darwinian terms; and human consciousness is identified with the activity of the evolved brain. Ultimately, so the story goes, all that we do, think and feel is subordinated to the imperative of ensuring that we behave in such a way as to, individually or collectively, maximise the chances of replicating our genetic material. In Aping Mankind, Raymond Tallis argues that the rise of this way of thinking is a matter of profound concern. He demonstrates that by denying human uniqueness, and minimising the differences between humans and their nearest animal kin, biologism misrepresents what we are, offering a grotesquely simplified and even degrading account of humanity, which has dire consequences: by seeing ourselves as animals we may find reasons for treating each other like them. In a devastating critique Tallis exposes the exaggerated claims made for the ability of neuroscience and evolutionary theory to explain human consciousness, behaviour, culture and society and shows that human beings are infinitely more interesting and complex than they appear in the mirror of biologism.

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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: 23.8 x 16.5 x 3.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 185,506 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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"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, Professor of Clinical Neurology, UCL Institute of Neurology

"There are few contemporary thinkers who possess either the breadth of Ray Tallis's knowledge or the depth of his scholarship. There are fewer still who can write so cogently and insightfully about the human condition." --Kenan Malik

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
70 of 78 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
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 1 month 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 5 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 10 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 14 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 16 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 23 months ago 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 23 months ago 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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