The other day the Chronicle of Higher Education had a lengthy article about the work of the “neurophilosopher” Patricia Churchland, with a few critics heard from but for the most part praising her, on the occasion of her new book Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us About Morality. It seems to come down mostly to oxytocin levels in our bloodstream.
As chance would have it, then I stumbled over a marvelous article from last fall’s issue of The New Atlantis, by Raymond Tallis, a real neuroscientist, titled “What Neuroscience Cannot Tell Us About Ourselves.” Tallis convincingly argues that neuroscience cannot–not just has not yet, but cannot–explain consciousness itself. Since morality is an artifact of conscious selves, it would seem that–poof!–there goes Churchland’s thesis entirely.
Tallis has a new book coming out this summer, titled Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity. I think I’ll be reading that, and giving Churchland’s new tome a miss.