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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Combating Scientism
Raymond Tallis' `Why the Mind is Not a Computer: A pocket lexicon of neuromythology' is a kind of desperate plea to advocates of the mind-brain identity model to use words correctly. Tallis' outlines, word by word, how the faulty metaphor `mind equals machine' and the faulty, reductionist conclusions it leads to are predicated on a gross misuse of language. He argues that...
Published on 25 Aug 2008 by Mr. RB FORTUNE-WOOD

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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars In Search of the Computations of the Human Mind
First published as "Psycho-electronics" in 1994, this reprinted (2004) edition presents an updated text in an attempt to reach a wider academic audience. In particular, this volume sets out to discuss the working lexicon of researchers from disciplines concerned with the physiology, psychology, and philosophy of mind and consciousness. More specifically, Tallis repeatedly...
Published on 28 Jan 2008 by Anthony R. Dickinson


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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars In Search of the Computations of the Human Mind, 28 Jan 2008
By 
Anthony R. Dickinson (WashU Med School, USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Why the Mind is Not a Computer: A Pocket Lexicon of Neuromythology (Societas) (Paperback)
First published as "Psycho-electronics" in 1994, this reprinted (2004) edition presents an updated text in an attempt to reach a wider academic audience. In particular, this volume sets out to discuss the working lexicon of researchers from disciplines concerned with the physiology, psychology, and philosophy of mind and consciousness. More specifically, Tallis repeatedly puts forward the idea that semantic (if not otherwise real) deficiencies may underlie our inability to have yet provided any convincing neural account of human consciousness. Indeed, from the outset of his 55-page, 17-item lexicon, the author contends that "appropriate neural activity in a normally functioning nervous system is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition of ordinary human consciousness and behaviour". However, in no quarter of his critical neuro-epistemology does Tallis inform the reader as to where one might begin to look for the solution to this insufficiency (i.e., there is none of the esoterica so often included in final chapter speculations of books typical of this genre, e.g., the World 3 of Popper & Eccles, 1977). Indeed one is perhaps reminded of the debates surrounding the James-Lange theory of emotion, but here instead the role of emotion being replaced by consciousness: Is consciousness equateable to specific existential brain/body states, or does it arise only in response to them? What really are the differences between volitional and reflexive arm movement processes, for example?, and how might each be realized in the functioning mammalian nervous system?

Tallis constantly reminds us throughout this volume that much of the literature concerned with consciousness suffers from fallacies derived from the use of persistent abstraction mistakes or category errors such that having used up so much of our higher level language to describe neural activity, one has little remaining with which to describe the difference(s) between basal neural activity in the presence or absence of consciousness. But whereas on the one hand we cannot as yet satisfactorily explain consciousness in terms of any functional neuronal circuitry, neither may we simply reduce it to terms of grammar and information. For example, in his entry for Information, Tallis rightly reminds the reader that information as stored in books or on hard discs remain "potential information" (p.68), which, in and of itself only becomes "'information' proper once realized within the mind of its human receiver's consciousness. In this sense, such information necessarily requires "someone being informed" in order that its description be confirmed. Here, as in many other places throughout this volume, one is pulled up sharp in being encouraged to worry that, if our specific sensations/perceptions are in any way to be thought of as being dependant upon (or modulated by) our individual consciousness, then the former cannot, therefore also be used to explain the origin or emergence of consciousness.

In his critical response to this and other such examples of "neuromythology", Tallis' 17-item lexicon seeks to rectify this situation (and hence the subtitle), whilst also pointing out the poor use of human and mechanical thinking machine homologues in explaining mechanisms of thought, language and reasoning. However, although there is little to read here concerning the detailed workings of either brains or machines, we are nonetheless treated to a superb set of accessible and provocative reminders concerning the subtleties involved in our use of language, symbols, signs, and the limitations upon their use when positing explanations (as opposed to merely descriptions) of mental phenomena. Together with the texts listed in the bibliography, I would envisage critical use of Tallis' various lexicon entries providing great tutorial discussion material for psychology, philosophy, and cognitive neuroscience majors alike. I thus strongly recommend this book for its advice to all in search of an explanation (rather than merely a representational redescription) of the phenomenon of human consciousness.

Dr. Tony Dickinson, McDonnell Center for Higher Brain Function
Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, USA.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Combating Scientism, 25 Aug 2008
By 
Mr. RB FORTUNE-WOOD "Rowan" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Why the Mind is Not a Computer: A Pocket Lexicon of Neuromythology (Societas) (Paperback)
Raymond Tallis' `Why the Mind is Not a Computer: A pocket lexicon of neuromythology' is a kind of desperate plea to advocates of the mind-brain identity model to use words correctly. Tallis' outlines, word by word, how the faulty metaphor `mind equals machine' and the faulty, reductionist conclusions it leads to are predicated on a gross misuse of language. He argues that words like `memory', `information' and `rule' have different and important meanings when applied to consciousness and computers and how confusing these meanings results in `magical thinking' and scientism.

This book is helpful for any attempt to critically assess most contemporary writing on the philosophy of mind; it is also helpful when understanding Tallis' wider philosophy and his views on explicitness. I recommend it to anyone seeking a more nuanced understanding of this popular philosophical debate. As always with Tallis it is accessible and written with an element of humour, which is good because without this `Why the Mind is Not a Computer' would be an incredibly dry book.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Astonishing catalogue of misrepresentation, 6 Feb 2013
This review is from: Why the Mind is Not a Computer: A Pocket Lexicon of Neuromythology (Societas) (Paperback)
This is an extraordinary book for it manages to pack so many conceptual errors into one small volume. The fact that Raymond Tallis is both clever and generally well informed makes me wonder why he writes such misleading and often horrifyingly wrong statements. It really is a great shame that he is influencing people with his misconceptions. A lot of what he says seems to be of the form of straw man argument - starting from a false premise about what other people think and then arguing against it. However, I gave up when I started to read statements such as "If one's structure were equal to information (about that structure?), then being a crystal would be a sufficient condition of being a crystallographer." To explain my exasperation: crystallographers understand a crystal as a regular array of atoms and that regular array is a pattern which is to say a stable configuration, which according to information theory is information. Obviously there is nothing about this that can make a crystal a crystallographer. Was he joking? In context it is clear that he was not. More generally when describing information, Tallis limits the discussion to the Weaver-Shannon mathematical information theory, ignoring the whole of the much more relevant General Definition of Information and Biosemiotics. When speaking of computation, he restricts the notion to arithmetic, which (as far as I am aware) no computer scientist would and when discussing complexity - a concept of great explanatory power in cognitive neuroscience and biology generally, he misconstrues the word as `sophistication', claiming that it is meaningless: workers in complexity theory would shake their heads in bafflement. A lot of what Raymond Tallis writes is a complaint about anthropomorphism in the language of science and he is right to insist that scientists be careful about that. However, he is seeing it where I think it does not exist - for example his entry on `instructions' insists that only people can issue and follow instructions, so he regards it as a faux-pas to refer to DNA as a set of instructions, singling out Richard Dawkins (apparently one of his bêtes noires) use of the phrase. Well, what are we to term the rôle of nucleotides in determining the sequence in which amino acids are joined to make a particular protein? Not a programme, nor a set of rules because he objects to them too. The genetic code is a familiar phrase, but one that leads Tallis to lampooning saying "we are therefore more inclined to believe that DNA speaks fluent morse [sic] than it speaks English". Oddly, when the title of his lexicon is "Why the mind is not a computer", neither `mind' nor `computer' receive an entry.
The book is, never the less, useful for anyone who wishes to better understand the basis of Raymond Tallis's writing on the mind-brain problem. For that, I found it very illuminating!
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