Michael De Dora
Posted on November 23, 2011
If you’re looking for some Thanksgiving reading, you might consider Raymond Tallis’ intriguing review in the Wall Street Journal of two new books on cognition: Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged From Matter, by Terrence Deacon, and Who’s in Charge: Free Will and the Science of the Brain by Michael S. Gazzaniga.
Here’s a taste:
The world of academe is currently in the grip of a strange and worrying epidemic of biologism, which has also captured the popular imagination. Scientists, philosophers and quite a few toilers in the humanities believe—and would have the rest of us believe—that nothing fundamental separates humanity from animality.
Biologism has two cardinal manifestations. One is the claim that the mind is the brain, or the activity of the brain, so that one of the most powerful ways to advance our understanding of ourselves is to look at our brains in action, using the latest scanning devices. The other is the claim that Darwinism explains not only how the organism Homo sapiens came into being (as, of course, it does) but also what motivates people and shapes their day-to-day behavior.
Biologism commands acceptance in the humanities because it is promoted or endorsed by scientists whose prowess in their chosen field seems to qualify them to pronounce on what are essentially philosophical questions. Thus it is notable when two books written by neuro-biologists of the greatest distinction are nonetheless critical of the simplifications—both scientific and philosophical—of biologism. Both authors look outside the conceptual frameworks upon which biologism depends.
The full article is available here.
Note: I’ll be off Thursday and Friday. Look for more posts on Monday.