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Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity [Hardcover]

by Raymond Tallis
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 30, 2011 1844652726 978-1844652723
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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Editorial Reviews


"A major and erudite statement of a position that is intellectually, morally, and spiritually of the first importance to those of us living now." Roger Scruton, of numerous books including A Political Philosophy: Arguments For Conservatism

"A splendid book. Tallis is right to say that current attempts to explain major elements of human life by brain-talk are fearfully misguided. Tallis 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 in a clear, vigorous style, with real fire, venom, and humour." Mary Midgley, author of The Owl of Minerva: A Memoir and The Solitary Self: Darwin and the Selfish Gene

"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 MRI work needs to be made." Simon Shorvon, UCL Institute of Neurology

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 published fiction, poetry and over a dozen books of cultural criticism and philosophical anthropology including, most recently, the acclaimed The Kingdom of Infinite Space (2008).

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Acumen Publishing (July 30, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844652726
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844652723
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.5 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #829,712 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
98 of 105 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Revolution in understanding humanity September 27, 2011
This is a rare and remarkable work of synthesis of scientific fact and philosophy from a medical professional immersed in the neurological and biological sciences. Although Tallis is one of the most literate and clear writers in science and philosophy, it is important to acknowledge that portions of the book are "heavy" and require serious concentration due to the density and uniqueness of the ideas he is presenting. But, by contrast, there are many places where one can't help but laugh out loud sometimes at his inventive phrases and words to help describe and drive home his essential viewpoints.

The book strikes me as having two basic goals:

1) A withering critique of reductionists who believe
---a) that our great conceptual abilities as humans can be reduced to (is equivalent to) the neural firings in our brain. These he call neuromaniacs.
---b) and those intellectuals who seek to minimize human differences from other animals by either anthropomorphizing animals or animalizing humans, in wrong ways. This phenomenon he calls Darwinitis. [However he is a committed Darwinian in the original meaning of the term.]
2) A fascinating theory of human origins that involves explaining the origin of free will in humans, the origins of self-consciousness, the origin of conceptual development and language development, resulting from the *nature* of our entire body and its unique set of features.

The first five chapters are devoted to item (1) above, and is largely a sustained and intense attack on many commonly promulgated and accepted scientific/philosophical myths, misconceptions and mistakes of the 20th and 21st centuries (and some earlier).

In chapter 6 he starts into his positive theory phase, and it is worth waiting for.
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48 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not pop-pseudoscience November 14, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Negative scientific studies, studies that demonstrate negative findings (like showing that a drug does not lower blood pressure any more than a sugar-pill), aren't as sexy as positive studies. Very few professors have gotten tenure by only showing what is not true. No one has won a Nobel prize for solely criticizing other people's research. That said, negative research can be as practical and useful as positive research. Look at recent research on vitamins--there is now good evidence that several vitamins and anti-oxidants decrease your life-expectancy rather than make you more healthy. It is important to know that vitamins can be bad for your health, even though it is a negative finding.

Aping Mankind is negative research. While most popular-science writers attempt to weave compelling stories from the latest neuroscience experiments to explain 'why we are the way we are', Tallis attempts to show why these stories simply cannot be true. If you are skeptical of media--and scientific journal--headlines such as "Researchers discover the location of love in the brain", then you may enjoy Aping Mankind. In this work Tallis exposes the odd proclivity of scholars, from biologists to literary critics, to anthropomorphize pieces of matter while simultaneously dehumanizing human beings. In effect we are systematically transferring our humanity to matter, and this may not be good for our health--just like vitamins.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A well-reasoned and exciting book September 4, 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As a neuroscientist, Tallis writes with obviously intimate insider knowledge of the field, and he argues with a lot of common sense as well as with deep philosophical understanding and reasoning regarding the issues. He shows the severe methodological and conceptual limitations of brain scans and he refutes in detail what he calls Neuromania, the tendency to reduce the human mind and consciousness to the firing of neurons, and "Darwinitis", the attempt to minimize the profound differences between humans and animals via a misguided biologism. While he debunks Darwinitis, Tallis is a full-blown Darwinian (as am I, except when it comes to the human soul). He is also an atheist, which may make his knowledgeable and fearless attacks against Neuromania and Darwinitis, which are in themselves mostly rooted in atheistic views, considerably more devastating than if they had come from a theist (of course there is no shortage of effective theistic rebuttals of these intellectual tendencies, but they usually follow different avenues of argumentation).

Against popular modern philosophical thinking, the author strongly affirms the obvious realities of consciousness, qualia and intentionality. It is most impressive and intellectually delicious how, with razor-sharp reasoning, Tallis lays waste to Dan Dennett's ideas who seeks to explain these issues "away" (at some point he rightfully argues why Dennett's book "Consciousness Explained" should rather be called "Consciousness Evaded"). He also superbly demolishes Dawkins' meme theory and, while he does not mention his name that frequently, Steven Pinker's ideas as well.
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32 of 38 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Honest and Fair Atheistic Humanist February 16, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In this book Tallis attacks scientism: the mistaken belief that the natural sciences (physics, chemistry, biology and their derivatives) can or will give a complete description of everything, including human life. We are not just our bodies. Humans are more than just animals. Scientists are deluded if they have the notion that our consciousness, the self to which the successive moments of consciousness are attributed, our personality, our character, personhood itself, are identical with activity in our brains. He calls this belief Neuromania.
Contrary to what evolutionary psychologists have argued, our behavior is not just determined by our biology. "The reduction of human life to a chain of programmed responses of modules to stimuli overlooks the complexity of everyday experience and the singularity of the situations we find ourselves in, to say nothing of the role of conscious deliberation." The human brain alone does not account for all our actions, our most private thoughts and our beliefs.
Religious belief is not the result of certain parts of the brain, so-called "God-spots". We are not just "hard-wired" for religious belief.
Darwinism cannot give a satisfactory answer to the questions: how did consciousness emerge, and what is consciousness for, anyway? When Darwinists teach that natural selection is random, and that we have evolved without any intelligent design or purpose, they still have to account for the emergence of humans who have consciousness, and seek for meaning and purpose in their lives. The logic of human development presupposes purpose. Atheists cannot explain the fact that we are purpose-seeking beings. We have the need to ask "Why?" We seek reasons. We are rational beings. Random natural selection does not explain this feature of life.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
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When I throw a ball to someone else, I am yet again demonstrating the operation of a certain natural law. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Venkat Ramanan
5.0 out of 5 stars The Brain is Not the Seat of Who We Are
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4.0 out of 5 stars Strong argument hampered by metaphysical preferences.
I have never read a book that demonstrate more blatantly how atheism can operate like a religious believe, as in this book. Read more
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5.0 out of 5 stars ahead of the curve
Actually, I'm not sure he's ahead of the curve, maybe more like riding the approaching wave. Going to work the other day, PBS had a story about how the verbal and visual centers of... Read more
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5.0 out of 5 stars a big dose of intellectual ammunition
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The scientists say that 'up' and 'down' is relative to the position of a body in space-time and if... Read more
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4.0 out of 5 stars Fresh look at the human animal
This is part of a series of books by Raymond Tallis that challenge the current scientific consensus on the nature of the mind and the status of human beings within nature. Read more
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5.0 out of 5 stars Well-Written, Logical Approach to Consciousness
Ray Tallis comes out fighting in this masterful, well-written examination of the basis of consciousness. Tallis shows how weak most of the modern pronouncements on the subject are. Read more
Published 23 months ago by R. Schultz
4.0 out of 5 stars free will ...bad idea
We will never understand this idiot called Man. Even Adam and Eve were too naive and God was too rough on them...after all it was only an apple! Read more
Published on October 26, 2011 by zorro4
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