There’s a widespread belief in psychiatric and mental health circles that human experience can be reduced to the biology of brain chemistry — the “medical model.” But this is just the tip of the iceberg: our whole society is in the grips of a faddish pseudo-science of “neuromarketing,” “neuropolitics” “neurotheology,” and ‘neuroeconomics.” Closely related is the eugenics-like reduction of human behavior to simple equations of ‘survival fitness’ supposedly derived from Darwin (who, it turns out, had a far more sophisticated view). It seems you can’t pick up a magazine or newspaper or turn on television these days without some otherwise intelligent person telling us, with great earnestness, that a magnetic resonance imaging machine has uncovered the truth of love, or that neurotransmitters explain shopping trends, that brain structure is responsible for red states and blue states, or that we like music because it gave hunter gatherers a survival advantage. Raymond Tallis — philosopher, Academy of Medical Sciences Fellow, and author of Why the Mind is Not a Computer and Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity — is an intellectual dissident against these pop trends of neuroscience and evolutionary psychology, and I had an opportunity recently to interview him for Madness Radio.
Tallis is an impressive thinker who, as a medical doctor and neurologist as well as a philosopher, has the credentials to challenge today’s intellectual absurdities.The struggle against the medical model is also a struggle to restore basic humanistic values and common sense. We are trying to help suffering people, not repair faulty neurotransmitters. “Why do I suffer?” is a human dilemma that leads to moral, political, philosophical, and religious questions, and no neuroscientific slight of hand can enable psychiatry or any other medical science to avoid such questions.
A listener commented about Tallis’ view of animals in this interview, and I think it is worth addressing. Behaviorism and evolutionary science mistakenly reduce humans to simplistic equations of survival and stimulus-response that science also attributes to animals. In emphasizing that humans are not just animals, as Tallis does, I don’t think it necessarily follows that we then have to agree with the biological reductionism of animals themselves. Biology also has gotten animals wrong if it doesn’t appreciate the rich complexity — including elements of culture and language — found among animals (what research has learned about elephants confirms the depths of animal minds and the complexity of animal society). Yet there remains an enormous gulf between how we experience humans and how we experience animals in the realms of culture, technology, language, and emotion. We don’t have to deny animals their own rich consciousness to also affirm the unmistakeable uniqueness of what it is to be human.
Can people’s behavior really be explained by neuroscience and our evolutionary needs as hunter-gatherers — or is this just a popular fad? Does understanding the brain really solve the mysteries of being human? Neurologist Dr. Raymond Tallis, philosopher, Academy of Medical Sciences Fellow, and author of Why the Mind is Not a Computer and Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity, exposes the bad science and faulty logic behind pop obsessions with the brain
and evolutionary psychology. www.raymondtallis.com http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/the_tls/article3712980.ece http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/books/2012/09/your-brain-pseudoscience
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.