It is a common and dangerous mistake to think that our minds are no more than electrical pulses in our brainsby Raymond Tallis / May 25, 2011 / Leave a comment
Published in June 2011 issue of Prospect Magazine
Not all wrong ideas are worth contesting. They are too numerous and will anyway soon disappear, displaced for the most part by other wrong ideas. There are some, however, that cannot be ignored. Those that misrepresent matters of supreme importance, or get in the way of our thinking about them clearly, or are widely accepted, or may have serious consequences, must be challenged.
One idea that ticks all these boxes is the notion that human beings are, in essence, animals; or, at the very least, much more beast-like than we have hitherto thought. It leads to claims, to name a couple, that we are just clever chimps, that our minds are no more than electrical signals in our brains.
There are myriad manifestations of this “biologism.” It is spelled out in thousands of books and articles on so-called neuro-aesthetics, meme theory, neurolaw, and in neuroevolutionary approaches to politics and economics. Brain scans supposedly revealing the secrets of the human mind are now common in newspapers. Its supporters assert, for example, that we can understand visual art better by scanning the brain to study its reaction, or that crime is best explained by an imbalance between the frontal lobes and the amygdaloid body.