The Poverty of Neurophilosophy

  • Michael Grant


The primary purpose of this reading, taken from On the Edge of Certainty (1999), is to make clear the extent to which neural theories of mind — that is, theories that attempt to explain mental phenomena in terms of certain processes in the brain — actually impoverish our understanding of human consciousness and our mental life. This, for Tallis, is particularly clear in the way neurophilosophy fails to give an account of consciousness that is able to do justice to our sense of ourselves and of our conscious lives. In part, this has to do with the fact that the notion of agency is inseparable from that of explicit purpose, from the expression of the rational will, and this in turn requires us to relate to contexts and situations that endure across far greater periods of time than are available to the instant of consciousness. Even the simplest acts involve a huge and complex temporal framework. The challenge to neurophilosophers like Daniel Dennett and Steven Pinker is, according to Tallis, to explain how all the different activities in the brain corresponding to these complex interrelationships can retain their different identities while at the same time these patterns are able to interact with and remain open to each other. All the activity rippling through the brain must come together in the present moment, so that I know where and who I am, but at the very same time it must keep myriads of projects, intentions and actions distinct. The notion that my mind is where my brain is could just as easily be turned on its head: my brain is where my mind is. Without consciousness there is no ‘where’, no ‘here’, for my brain to be at. And my brain is ownerless.


Neural Activity Cognitive Neuroscience Conscious Experience Nerve Impulse Neural Theory 
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    The best of these are: Patricia Churchland, Neurophilosophy (Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press, 1986).Google Scholar
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    See Roger Penrose, Shadows of the Mind: A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness (Oxford University Press, 1994), pp. 367–9.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Raymond Tallis 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Grant
    • 1
  1. 1.Rutherford CollegeThe University of KentCanterburyUK

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