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A Powerful Path Through the Neuro-Darwinian Jungle,
This review is from: Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity (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.
What is remarkable and of the greatest importance in his criticism of claims that we are only our brains is that he steers clear of the pitfalls that lay in wait for those who do not have the grasp of neuroscience he has. Tallis makes clear that some sort of spiritual existence independently of the body has no logical support. He also accepts totally the role of our bodies and brains in what makes us who we are, especially when severe brain damage influences how we act. Something he is all too painfully aware of in his clinical practice. But our biology is only a starting point, human experience, society and culture create our being beyond our bodies.
This book is part of a small library of books Raymond Tallis has written on related matters. It shows him to be in the vangaurd of a growing number of philosphers and scientists who have seen that the neuroscientists and evolutionary psychologists have been having a free ride. The media fascination with the simplistic idea that we are just naked apes gives publicity to claims that are potentially destructive because they dehumanise human beings. It is for that reason that Tallis' explorations of the ethical implications of the biological interpretations of what makes us people are the most important aspects of this significant book.