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Michelangelo's Finger: An Exploration of Everyday Transcendence Hardcover – 1 Feb 2010

3.4 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Books; Main edition (1 Feb. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848871198
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848871199
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 2 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,033,781 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description

Review

"'An amazing book about the human head, I've never seen anything like it... A very heady, heady experience... Thrilling' Lynne Truss, Sunday Times 'Fascinating... A wonderful treasury of stupefying facts, a sort of "Ripley's Believe It Or Not" compendium... This is a wonderful book.' Michael Simkins, Mail On Sunday 'The pages burst with an entertaining mixture of intriguing facts and thought-provoking observations.' Andrew Robinson, New Scientist"

Book Description

The ability of the human index finger to point is truly unique in the animal world. In Michaelangelo's Finger Raymond Tallis shows just how central this seemingly insignificant difference has been in determining the amazing evolutionary pathway of the human being.

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Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
For such an apparently simple and ubiquitous activity, about which there would seem to be nothing much controversial or challenging to say, pointing turns out to be quite an accomplishment and more than capable of triggering strong feelings. Parents are proud the first time their child points to a toy, an early sign of an independent mind. On seeing Alastair Campbell jab his index finger at the camera in defence of the Iraq war, many will share Tallis's own outrage ("it seemed to me that this single digit stood for all the arrogant, opinionated, moralizing, morally impervious people I have come across in my life"). In art, in imagining how a god might have created life on earth, a pointing finger is at the centre of Michelangelo's most famous fresco. In this tremendous book, Raymond Tallis shows how pointing can tell us something important about ourselves, about what it is to be human. He argues that we are "the Pointing Animal".

That "pointing is both universal in, and unique to, humans should alone make it worthy of study." This will strike some as speciesist, although Tallis would deny such a charge and the evidence is on his side. As a good Darwinian atheist he celebrates our connection to all living creatures and the fact that we evolved and were not made. He also makes a strong case for a clear line between human and non-human animals and explores how, "alone of all living creatures, we express the world we live in".

Pointing is not just a physical arrangement of the limbs: there has to be the right kind of mental activity going on as well. Those dog lovers who think Fido can point should try pointing something out and see if he understands what they're doing. Chances are, he'll look at you, adoringly, but won't follow your gaze or the axis created by your finger and arm.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Like Raymond Tallis' last work, 'The Kingdom of Infinite Space', this serves well as either a brilliant continuation of or an apt introduction to his philosophical anthropology trilogy: 'The Hand', 'I Am', 'The Knowing Animal'--all grossly underappreciated masterpieces. 'Michelangelo's Finger: An Exploration of Everyday Transcendence' makes explicit the implicit extraordinariness concealed by the ordinariness of human being; that is, takes the seemingly banal to reveal the wondrous that is hidden by the normal. The index finger and its use as a pointer are shown to be an example of what we (as humans) uniquely are; self aware, other aware (communal) and, in an atheistic sense, transcendent.

Tallis' style is captivating; at one point employing a reverent accent for his subject matter, at another point making amusing puns. More than any other philosopher I have read he infects the reader with his own passion and humour. And equally impressive is his marshalling of knowledge; without straying towards the inaccessible or pretentious he can cite an array of authors to reinforce his arguments. Having previously wondered if there was any parallel between Popper's World 3 (the world of human knowledge) and what Tallis' often calls the community of minds I was particularly intrigued by his noncommittal use of Popperian Cosmology.

While the whole of the book is noteworthy the last chapter and, more precisely, the last section of the last chapter, is astonishing. It is amongst the best example of Tallis' writing. It is profound without loosing relevance, clarity or specificity. Here he describes the origins of the divine in human awareness transcending the particular. This all encompassing transcending experience is shown to be temporally bordered by mortality and arising from, only to escape, biological origins. I would contend that it is a book impossible to close without feeling awestricken.
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Format: Hardcover
Michelangelo's Finger is not a satisfying book. Good science writing can be clear and precise without being inaccessible. However, Tallis's philosophical claims are largely under-theorised and often conflate important differences. Additionally, his knowledge of the empirical studies relevant to his subject is very weak. Many of the empirical claims that he makes are straighforwardly wrong. Those with a serious interest in the role of pointing in the evolution of human culture communication would do better to read Mike Tomasello's more academic but still accessible 'Origins of Human Communication'.

For all its flaws, I enjoyed grappling with Tallis's book. He is passionate about his subject matter and writes with a contagious sense of intellectual curiosity. This, along with its wealth of interesting ideas, makes for a book that is fun. But it is certainly a missed opportunity.
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Format: Hardcover
For such an apparently simple and ubiquitous activity, about which there would seem to be nothing much controversial or challenging to say, pointing turns out to be quite an accomplishment and more than capable of triggering strong feelings. Parents are proud the first time their child points to a toy, an early sign of an independent mind. On seeing Alastair Campbell jab his index finger at the camera in defence of the Iraq war, many will share Tallis's own outrage ("it seemed to me that this single digit stood for all the arrogant, opinionated, moralizing, morally impervious people I have come across in my life"). In art, in imagining how a god might have created life on earth, a pointing finger is at the centre of Michelangelo's most famous fresco. In this tremendous book, Raymond Tallis shows how pointing can tell us something important about ourselves, about what it is to be human. He argues that we are "the Pointing Animal".

That "pointing is both universal in, and unique to, humans should alone make it worthy of study." This will strike some as speciesist, although Tallis would deny such a charge and the evidence is on his side. As a good Darwinian atheist he celebrates our connection to all living creatures and the fact that we evolved and were not made. He also makes a strong case for a clear line between human and non-human animals and explores how, "alone of all living creatures, we express the world we live in".

Pointing is not just a physical arrangement of the limbs: there has to be the right kind of mental activity going on as well. Those dog lovers who think Fido can point should try pointing something out and see if he understands what they're doing. Chances are, he'll look at you, adoringly, but won't follow your gaze or the axis created by your finger and arm.
Read more ›
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