Raymond Tallis delivers his talk 'Can Neuroscience Cast Light on Personhood?' for the 2013 Humane Philosophy Project Conference 'Being a Human, Being a Person'.
Can neuroscience cast light on personhood? – In this paper, I shall argue that neuroscience, and in particular the investigation of the workings of the human brain, have little to add to our understanding of personhood. In support of this argument, I shall point out that there are many key aspects of personhood that are not amenable to a neuroscientific explanation. The most fundamental of these is consciousness. In addition there are higher levels aspects of personhood, most notably unity of consciousness at a particular time and the extension of per sonhood over time into past an d future, and voluntary action that are also beyond the reach of also neuroscience. This position leaves those who oppose neural explanations of the person with the task of defining and making sense of the central role of the brain in permitting the possibility of personhood.
Raymond Tallis was Professor of Geriatric Medicine at the University of Manchester until 2006. He has published over 200 articles in leading journals such as Nature , Medicine, and Lancet . In 2000 he was elected Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences. In addition to li terary works, he has published many books on the philosophy of mind, philosophical anthropology, literary theory, the nature of art, and cultural criticism. His recent books include Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humani ty ( Acumen, 2011) and In Defence of Wonder and Other Philosophical Reflections (Acumen, 2012).