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The Poverty of Neurophilosophy

  • Michael Grant

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Neural Activity Cognitive Neuroscience Conscious Experience Nerve Impulse Neural Theory 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    The best of these are: Patricia Churchland, Neurophilosophy (Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press, 1986).Google Scholar
  2. Paul M. Churchland, Matter and Consciousness: a Contemporary Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, rev. edition, 1988).Google Scholar
  3. Daniel C. Dennett, Consciousness Explained (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1991).Google Scholar
  4. Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works (Harmondsworth: Allen Lane, Penguin, 1997).Google Scholar
  5. 3.
    Raymond Tallis, The Explicit Animal: A Defence of Human Consciousness (London: Macmillan, 1991).Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    Colin McGinn, ‘Can We Solve the Mind/Body Problem?’, Mind (1989), 350–66.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    Lewis Wolpert, The Unnatural Nature of Science (London: Faber, 1992).Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    Stephen P. Stich, From Folk Psychology to Cognitive Science: the Case against Belief (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1983).Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    Discussed in Raymond Tallis, ‘A Dark Mirror: Reflections on Dementia’, News from the Republic of Letters (1997), 12–16.Google Scholar
  10. 11.
    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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