Thursday, October 20, 2011


In The Chronicle of Higher Education Marc Parry notes the crusade of Raymond Tallis to throw out the "Neurotrash." This is the goal of his new book "Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis, and the Misrepresentation of Humanity" (McGill-Queen's University Press). Parry describes a Tallis lecture that seeks to demolish
…two "pillars of unwisdom." The first, "neuromania," is the notion that to understand people you must peer into the "intracranial darkness" of their skulls with brain-scanning technology. The second, "Darwinitis," is the idea that Charles Darwin's evolutionary theory can explain not just the origin of the human species—a claim Tallis enthusiastically accepts—but also the nature of human behavior and institutions….Those trends, as Tallis sees them, are like "intellectual illnesses" metastasizing from academic labs into popular culture. He sees the symptoms in neuro-economic thinkers who explain our susceptibility to subprime mortgages by describing how our brains evolved to favor short-term rewards. He sees them in philosophers who claim that our primate minds admire paintings of landscapes that would have supported hunting and gathering. He sees it in neurotheologians who preach that "God is a tingle in the 'God spot' in the brain."
The points Tallis makes are good, much of the press description of 'love spots in the brain' , etc. is nonsense…but Tallis does seem to throw out the baby with the bathwater. How could we make sense of the irrational social behaviors described in the previous two mindblog posts this week outside of an evolutionary framework, and how do we explain that activities of certain brain areas, when perturbed by strokes, electrical stimulation, or drugs do alter fairly discrete classes of behaviors?

1 comment:

  1. Hmmm? If you aren't explaining things in terms of science you're explaining things in terms of mythologies, aren't you?

    I wouldn't say that evolution gives a complete explanation of all human behaviour but it does tell you a lot about what what you're working with.