We Are Not Our Brains?

by Patrick Appel

Raymond Tallis fears the use of neuroscience in public policy:

There is a huge gap between the community of minds and animal quasi-societies. The vast landscape that is the human world has been shaped by the activity of explicit individuals who do things deliberately. Uniquely, the denizens of that world entertain theories about their own nature and about the world; systematically inquire into the order of things and the patterns of causation and physical laws that seem to underpin that order; create cities, laws, institutions; frame their individual lives within a shared history that is recorded and debated over; narrate their individual and shared lives; and guide, justify and excuse their behaviour according to general and abstract principles. Neuro-evolutionary theorists try to ignore all this evidence of difference and have even requisitioned the pseudo-scientific notion of the meme, the unit of cultural transmission, analogous to the gene that ensures its own survival by passing from brain to brain, to capture human society for quasi-Darwinian thought. Just how desperate is this endeavour to conceal the Great Ditch separating humans from other animals is evident from the kind of items that are listed as memes: “the SALT agreement”, “styles of cathedral architecture”, “faith”, “tolerance for free speech” and so on.