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He wants to retain a sense of humanity's (and his own - there is a sense that he protests very loudly) wonderful difference from
on 7 December 2014
Tallis deals with difficult (at least to me!) concepts about the mysterious subject of Consciousness. The main thrust seems to be to rubbish current neurobabble that equates thoughts, emotions and ideas with certain parts of the brain as demonstrated on functional mri scans which he labels as modern day phrenology. I was left with the sense that the big C cannot be explained in terms of sodium ion transfer over nerve cell membranes which is really what neurology reduces to. One neurone is much the same as another so how is it that we register the multitudinous shades of thought, feeling, appreciation and sensing etc in these samey lumps of matter? Sodium ion fluctuation is all that happens everywhere in the brain. The brain may be a necessary condition of consciousness in the material world but it is not fully sufficient. How do we as persons appreciate the fully-orbed 'aboutness' of an object rather than having a simple input/output reaction? We 'reach out' in a wide web of conceptual appreciation simultaneously as the object reaches in to our awareness. We also observe ourselves observing; both subject and object at the same moment. Difficult to explain materially even with Quantum physics (which he too disregards).
I think that Tallis as a humanist is desperate to distance humanity from biological determinism (which also undermines the whole concept of the existence of rationality and science therefore) and the bleak philosophies that flow from that. He wants Art for Art's sake and not as an adaptive survival mechanism! He wants to retain a sense of humanity's (and his own - there is a sense that he protests very loudly) wonderful difference from the animal realm, yet as an atheist who cannot bring himself to deny his neo-Darwinian faith, he rejects the classic dualism of religious thought. Yet his own (admittedly very truncated presentation thereof in this book) theory still has matter pulling itself up by its own boot straps to create consciousness. It has to do with hand/eye coordination mixed with social interaction leading to a sense of self in relation to others and the ensuing nexus of shared memory/ideas/values so that finally true consciousness escapes the bonds of the brain to exist in the social space. That probably faulty and simplistic explanation will not have done his magisterial theory any justice l'm sure! It seems to be disguised by the classic sleight of hand of 'with many small steps we climbed Mount Improbable' which is an illusory path because the many steps lack any direction towards anything as they rely upon purely random events, such as mutation, for anything to change. Major things about consciousness are that it is analytic, purposeful and directive. The very antithesis of chance acting under natural law. It rules over matter and its laws; it isn't subject to them but utterly disassociated from them. How did that magic materialise - the immaterial from the material? It is so very different from cause and effect matter. It also either is or isn't present as a whole. It is irreducibly complex to coin a phrase!
But where or how exactly does the metamorphosis into real consciousness happen from the instinctual and rudimentary self-recognition of apes? We are very, very different from all animals. Even in such basic similar functions as defaecation as Tallis enjoys telling (Dr's humour no doubt!) not just in the Arts and Philosophy. How did Consciousness escape the dull sleep of lumpitiousness? Existential agonising from sodium ion fluctuation? Unlikely. The multiplication of computational power thro a bigger or more intricately wired brain for him is just more of the same. A bigger lump. The biological binary of fluctuating neuronal action potentials just don't cut it. AI is dead in the water for similar reasons. The Turing test inadequate.
At last I think he admits that it is still a Mystery. His beliefs lead him to scornfully reject the religious explanation that we are different because we are made that way. He certainly doesn't align with any belief in Divine agency and is embarrassed his book may be used by Creationists. Silly people when he has disproved the existence of God as illogical. Gosh, that's it then, no more debate needed!
There seems to be evidence tho' that consciousness is something extra-material; Tallis says so though he locates it predominantly in the social space, even though intimately connected to the brain - well, he has to doesn't he? Why should it not be derived from a greater original Consciousness? Why shouldn't that Consciousness be more fundamental than matter? What is unreasonable about that? Why shouldn't that ultimate Consciousness have shaped a place for other consciousnesses to exist? Why not souls therefore? Surely the reasonable evidence is between our own ears (or wherever!) present in the existence of our thoughts? There is much evidence presented here that a purely material explanation is inadequate. Seems more reasonable that matter derived from Mind than the other way round.
Tallis has done us the favour of displaying the vacuousness of the neuromaniac and hyper-Darwinitic view of mankind with great learning and attention to detailed rebuttal. Important when all we hear is the litany of 'we're not special; we're just animals'. Well, we are (special) it seems though that is blindingly obvious.
I found the book a real education though no doubt some may say I need more education yet.