Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Sometimes Raymond Tallis Sounds Just Like a Creationist


Here are three points of concordance:

- use of dismissive and propagandistic terms, such as "Darwinitis", "neuromania", and "neuromaniac"
- insisting that the position he is arguing against constitutes "orthodoxy", as if it were a religious doctrine
- dismissing "materialism" and ignoring the lack of evidence for immaterial objects

Of course, I don't think he's actually a creationist. But I do wonder why he adopts their tactics.

Maybe he should have chosen another dismissive term in place of "Darwinitis", because it already has a definition:

a complaint that afflicts those of a literary bent and strong attachments to pre-scientific culture, who find in the theory of evolution a disturbing and mysterious challenge to their values (Anthony West)

Come to think of it, that sounds like a reasonably good description of Tallis (replace "evolution" with "evolutionary & neural explanation of consciousness")

Matthew Taylor probably wasn't the best choice for an opponent to Tallis. I imagine that Daniel Dennett (whose last name was comically mispronounced by Tallis) would have him for breakfast.

Both speakers agree that human beings are the only ones who "think about thinking". I wonder how they know this with such certainty? For example, how do they know that dolphins do not think about thinking?


Miranda said...

Looks like you have three points of concordance, not two. And then there's the double "i" in Darwinitiis.

In claiming that he is arguing against an "orthodoxy", maybe Tallis was just reflecting the words of Michael Ruse.

I don't think Tallis was adopting creationist _tactics_. He was just copying what he believes creationists are _correct_ about.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Miranda: Thanks again for the corrections.

Anonymous said...

Of course fish think about thinking. Do you think Chimps have a concept of fairness? It has been shown that they do. Life is not fair, never will be: because no matter the scale one will always find bias and indeed we have.

With God we get the strength to accept the things we cannot change Shallit. We find peace and hope, and the ability to forgive ourself and our fellow man.

Takis Konstantopoulos said...

I, too, have met people who, despite the fact they are not religious, they adopt some terribly theocratic viewpoints. In some cases, it has to do with their desire to please someone (a religious boss, say). In other cases it has to do with the way the kind of society they grew up in (ex Soviets, say).

It is, indeed, always interesting to encounter people who, although they are not religious, even though they do not officially endorse creationism, they behave as if they were.

Anonymous said...

I have met people who openly waft their beliefs because self doubt.

Anonymous said...

Do you always blurt out of your mouth or onto your keypad your immediate thoughts, or do you take the time to consider how others may feel about what you have to say? Relationships do improve when we consider other people's feelings you know. Perhaps the concept is too difficult to master for some people.

Anonymous said...

The magic word is "please". But I'm done posting on this blog anyhow, nothing stimulating left to learn.

Miranda FARTED said...

Sniff, sniff? What's that smell?

OH, WAIT! Miranda is back and cutting the cheese via unnecessary blog comments.

Keep on majoring in the minor points, Miranda. Unlike pennies, they won't add up! But those farts will!

Daniel said...

There are for some reason people who believe such things. Owen Flanagan dubbed them the "New Mysterians" in 1991. Lots of naturalistically-minded philosophers like Dan Dennett have spent a lot of time arguing against this sort of thing in his books Consciousness Explained and Sweet Dreams. It just goes to show that "Humanists" need not be Naturalists or necessarily people on our side. His arguments in that video were staggeringly bad.

Seeking Clarity said...

"It just goes to show that "Humanists" need not be Naturalists or necessarily people on our side. "

On our side of what?

Anonymous said...

Some people take a very mechanistic view of things. And Tallis seems to be reacting (or over-reacting) to that. I share his dislike for taking an excessively mechanistic view, but I do think he went way too far in that video.

The most extremely mechanistic views that I see are those coming from creationists and ID proponents. It is what they describe as the atheistic materialistic world view of the Darwin lobby, and they attribute that view to anybody who does not swallow their creationist nonsense. Perhaps Tallis has been reading too much of what they write.

The next most extreme statements I see are those coming from discussions of AI and cognitive science. That's probably what Tallis is really reacting to.

As best I can tell from what I read, most scientists have a more balanced approach, and that's what makes the Tallis video seem so over the top.

Here are a couple of links to other comments I have found on Tallis:

Daniel said...


What does "excessively materialistic" mean? What evidence do we have that there is anything in the Universe other than the basic natural material studied by physics. When people complain about naturalism, I can only conclude that they are trying to open the door for God, immaterial souls, immaterial consciousness or any other traditional nonsense.

cody said...

Ugh, that was frustrating to watch. It's like Tallis doesn't understand the basic methodology of science: you can't assume your preconceived notions are right!

He just asserts that "nothing in physical science can explain why a physical object such as a brain should find, uncover, or create, appearances," doesn't he understand basic evolution? This isn't rocket science.

All one need to imagine is that our conscious perception is exactly what a robot would feel like hooked up to all the right sensory apparatus (nervous system) with short circuited behavior (instincts) interfering with sophisticated and power-hungry modeling software, which collects & processes enormous amounts of visual, audible, etc., input into a single coherent picture before passing it to a final inspection station that reviews the computation for errors or prints it to an output set of nerves, or stores it in memory for later recall, or even just uses it as other relevant data in other calculations, (all of which I'd argue have plausible evolutionary explanations), it's not clear to me where the mystery in consciousness is anymore. Where are all the insurmountable problems that have no plausible materialistic explanation? (I was disappointed when Sam Harris wrote recently with some similar assertions, though far less

Maybe this intense feeling of 'consciousness' really is nothing more than what it 'feels like' to compute in such a way as I have described, with sufficiently fancy pattern recognition tools to observe and make sense of themselves? (And the appropriate emotional-wiring/instinctual-shortcuts that make love—pain—hate and all the rest of it so persuasive.) How would you know the difference between a brain made just of neurons and one of neurons + magic? Cause ALL of the evidence points to just neurons.

But when Tallis claims the neurons alone cannot account for his mind, he not only claims something for which there is no acceptable scientific evidence, he also claims to know what it is like to be nothing more than a ball of neurons—contradicting the original premise. The humor here is that in his honest opinion he doesn't think he knows what it's like to be a ball of neurons, but believes he can assert that he knows it not to be this, while from my perspective, he does know what it is like to be nothing more than a ball of neurons, but since he isn't fully aware of the situation we can differentiate between two similar statements: while he knows what it is like to be a ball of neurons, he doesn't know he knows.

Which makes me wonder: is there a good notation for diagramming common knowledge problems?) As a species we have not yet reached true self-awareness! (Sorry for the rant.)

Also, Daniel, well said.

koppieop said...

Interesting matters. I would thank the moderator for refusing ANONYMOUS comments. More than one post at a time that is not signed by at least a nickname, can make it (unnecessarily) difficult to follow the thread. Regards,