Aping Mankind

Raymond Tallis, Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity

On the everything-list Craig has written his expression about this book and I have decided to read it. I am personally annoyed by statements from science that we are just biological machines and I have decided to read the opposite camp. Craig’s recommendation happens to be a good choice. It is enjoyable reading that gives a good overview of Neuromania and Darwinitis. Below there are quotes from the book that present typical statements from the biologism side. I highly recommend you to read what Raymond Tallis says about it.

Neuromania and Darwinitis

p. 52 Colin Blakemore: “The human brain is a machine which alone accounts for all our actions, our most private thoughts, our beliefs … All our actions are products of the activity of our brains. It makes no sense (in scientific terms) to try to distinguish sharply between acts that result from conscious attention and those that result from our reflexes or are caused by disease or damage to the brain.”

p. 147 Humphrey: “One of the most cherished assumptions of contemporary psychology … [is] that ape minds and human minds are in fact basically of the same type and shape, that there is no great qualitative gulf between human ways of construing the world and apes’ ways, that apes are in effect just like us, only less so.”

p. 263 Blackmore: ‘All human actions, whether conscious or not, come from complex interactions between memes, genes and all their products. The self is not an initiator of actions, it does not “have” consciousness, it does not “do” the deliberating. There is no truth in the idea of an inner self inside my body that controls the body and is conscious. Since this is false, so is the idea of my conscious self having free will. ‘

p. 277 Wilson: “It may not be too much to say that sociology and the other social sciences, including humanities, are the last branches of biology waiting to be included in the Modern Synthesis.”

p. 284 Zeki: “The artist in a sense is a neuroscientists, exploring the potential and capacities of the brain, though with different tools. How such creations can arouse aesthetic experiences can only be fully understood in neural terms. Such an understanding is now well within our reach.”

p. 323 Camerer: “Because people have little or no access to these [brain] processes, or volitional control over them, and these processes were evolved to solve problems of evolutionary importance rather than respect logical data, the behaviour these processes generate need not follow normative axioms of inference and choice.”

p. 327 Savulescu: “The coming decades will be a time when neuroscience really goes forward exponentially. We will be able to influence the basic human condition, our cognitive abilities, our mood and perhaps even our romantic relationships. Further down the track, we may be interfering in early human development or contributing to augmenting early human development or even genetic engineering.”

Aristotle: Brain Served Only to Cool the Blood

p. 30 “The brain theory was contested by champions of other organs. The most famous was Aristotle, for whom the heart, not the brain, was the seat of the intellect. The brain, he said, served only to cool the blood; and perhaps in a sense it does.”

I have searched in Internet to check the information. I have found a paper that confirms the quote above.

Gross, C.G. Aristotle on the brain. The Neuroscientist, 1995, 1: 245-250

Abstract. Aristotle argued that the heart was the center of sensation and movement. By contrast, his predecessors, such as Alcmaeon, and his contemporaries, such as the Hippocratic doctors, attributed these functions to the brain. This article examines Aristotle’s views on brain function in the context of his time and considers their subsequent influence on the development of the brain sciences.

Between Religion and Biologism

p. 10 “As an atheist and also a humanist I believe that we should develop an image of humanity that is richer and truer to our distinctive nature than that of an exceptionally gifted chimp. It does not seem to me a very great advance to escape from the prison of false supernatural thought only to land in the prison of a naturalistic understanding.”

p. 327 “Atheism has certainly had some eloquent advocates in recent years. Indeed, they have been so effective that they have provoked their religious opponents not only to criticize – often quite savagely – their grasp of theology but also to accuse them of being “fundamentalists”. Unfortunately, some of these deicides – notably Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins – do indeed have their own fundamentalism, namely biologism. They provide the most direct and clear-cut illustration of the tendency that I deplored in the Introduction: rejecting supernatural accounts of human nature only to embrace the opposite error of concluding that humans must therefore be simply parts of the natural world. It is as if a consistent atheism is obliged to tie itself to the anti-humanist view that we are, at bottom, just organisms. This brings atheism (and mankind) into disrepute and should be equally repugnant to believers and disbelievers. It is because I do not believe that rejecting a divine origin of the universe in general, or of us in particular, necessarily leads to a naturalistic account of what we are that I have written this book.”

Who Determines Surroundedness of an Organism?

p. 113-114 ‘Yes, there is a sense in which it is correct to invoke the opposition between “the organism” and “the environment” in the case of an insentient creature such a a bacterium. The organism does not, however, itself lie at the centre of its environment, creating an organism-centered space. The centre-surround distinction belongs only to the observer, just as that which counts as the surroundings of a pebble to the observer rather than to the pebble. It is the observer who posits the organism as being related to an environment centred on it. “Surroundedness” does not come free along with, say, a membrane marking the boundary between the organism and the rest of the material world any more that it comes free with an entity such as a pebble that has a continuous surface marking its limits. The boundary visible to us do not transform the organism’s objective location into a point of view that stipulates that which is physically around it as its surrounding.’


Seth, A.K. (2010). Measuring autonomy and emergence via Granger causality Artificial Life. 16(2):179-196

J. P. Crutchfield, The Calculi of Emergence: Computation, Dynamics, and Induction, Physica D 75 (1994) 11-54.