Saturday, 21 July 2012

HG Library: Brain and mind: an unfathomable relationship? Ivan Tyrrell talks to James Le Fanu

This interview with James Le Fanu was published in the Human Givens journal in 2009 and is a must-read if you are interested in Darwinism, science and progress.

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Brain and mind: an unfathomable relationship?

James Le Fanu explains to Ivan Tyrrell why he believes that reductionist science cannot, and never will, explain the complexities of what it is to be human.

TYRRELL: James, in your earlier book, The Rise and Fall of Modern Medicine, you laid out all the wonderful achievements of modern medicine but felt it had arrived at a point where progress had stalled. You included psychotherapy in this, describing how psychoanalytic approaches to mental illness had turned out largely worthless and often harmed people. In your new book, Why Us? How science rediscovered the mystery of ourselves, the pattern is the same. After describing the very real achievements of modern science, you conclude that it has now stalled and is no longer making progress with the big issues. Did you consciously have that pattern in mind or did it just pan out like that?

LE FANU: It came about through the process of writing. The last 60 years has witnessed the culmination of an extraordinary scientific programme stretching back 400 years that has produced, both in pure science and applied science, the remarkable achievements we have all seen in the post-war years. It takes some time to make sense of it all and appreciate the sheer scale of what’s going on. For me, it’s being able to hold in our mind’s eye, for the first time in the history of our species, the whole history of the universe, from the moment it started to life on earth as it is today: the history of the evolution of the universe, the solar system, life appearing on our planet and evolving, and unravelling of the genetic codes of the whole genome. Science made that possible in my lifetime, and I just find this completely awe- inspiring. By the early 80s there were really only two outstanding questions: What is the nature of the genetic instructions which are passed from generation to generation? And how do the chemical and electrical activities of the brain create the mind? Then a series of major technical innovations in the late 70s and early 80s held out the promise that these questions too might be resoluble.

TYRRELL: Neuroscientists were developing the means actually to observe the living brain doing things – thinking, talking, deciding, experiencing emotions, and so on—

LE FANU: —And that had never been possible before. Genetics and neuroscience, when they got off the ground, fell within my sphere of interest as a science writer. We were promised that spelling out the human genome and the genetic instructions of organisms would clarify and explain, at least in principle, what distinguishes one organism from another, and also that watching the brain in action using PET scans would tell us how the mind works.
That major research effort lasted for about 20 years culminating around the time of the millennium with the Decade of the Brain and the publication of the human genome. It seemed to me, although it took some time for the penny to drop, that, quite inadvertently, the findings were completely contrary to those which science had been anticipating, and so dramatically as to suggest that either something else is going on or that science’s presumptions about the phenomena of life represent a fa├žade of knowledge.

TYRRELL: As you wrote, “Two of the most ambitious scientific projects ever conceived have revealed, quite unexpectedly – and without anyone really noticing – that we are, after all, a mystery to ourselves.”

LE FANU: Yes, this was particularly so with regard to the twin enigmas: the nature of ‘form’, what distinguishes one form of creature from another; and what accounts for the richness of the human mind – consciousness and so on.
It all came together for me whilst I was trying to work out what the unexpected findings thrown up by genetics and neuroscience actually meant. Specifically, what did it mean that there was a near equivalence of the number of genes across a vast range of organistic complexity – essentially we share the same number of genes as a millimetre long worm – and the realisation that science cannot get from the monotonous electrochemistry of the brain to the richness of the subjective experience of the human mind? This, naturally enough, suggests that something else is going on. By itself the sequence of genes strung out along the double helix could not alone conjure up the near infinite diversity of form and attributes of the living world, nor account for the emergence of the human mind. And whatever is missing is substantial. But it’s quite obvious that science doesn’t want to go there. There remain virtually limitless possibilities for research, but this only generates a yet further avalanche of undigested and indigestible facts without any sense of what it all means.

TYRRELL: So, when you started exploring the wider context of science’s perception of how things are, what happened?

LE FANU: Well, inevitably, it led to modern biology’s foundational theory – Darwin’s evolutionary theory, with its claim to explain the phenomena of life as the consequence of an incredibly simple mechanism: natural selection acting on the random mutation of genes. As long as I can remember, I have been a bit of a Darwin sceptic. Not that evolution doesn’t happen: it is self-evident that the whole history of the universe, from the simple to the complex, is an evolutionary one. Similarly, the concept of natural selection is indisputable: nature selects the robust and the strong against weak.

TYRRELL: So, for you, the problem is that Darwin’s theory has become a theory for everything.

LEFANU: Exactly that! It’s not that it explains too little but that it explains too much...




TYRRELL: So you put it in the same category as the theories of Marx and Freud?

LE FANU: Yes. The philosopher Karl Popper made the point that a theory that explains everything ends up explaining not very much at all. It bypasses the normal process of intellectual enquiry: You don’t have to ‘engage’ with the facts, if you already have a ready explanation. There is nothing too bizarre about the living world, or too extraordinary about genetics, that cannot be accounted for as having evolved over millions of years. There have always been people to draw attention to the limitations of the empirical evidence for such a claim.

TYRRELL: But, in your book, you argue that the findings of neuroscience and modern genetics pose a yet more substantial challenge.

LE FANU: Yes. The failure to identify the random mutations which separate us from our primate cousins brings into focus the limits of Darwin’s explanatory model and makes us realise how much it has concealed our vast ignorance of how things are – and particularly about ourselves.

TYRRELL: Darwin’s theory led some scientists to suggest that our sense of self, the most fundamental thing about being human, was just an epiphenomenon.

LE FANU: It did, and at that point we moved away from what is essentially a scientific argument – to what extent do the findings of genetics and neuroscience validate or refute Darwin’s foundational theory? – to the wider philosophical enquiry about ourselves and what we are doing here, and, particularly, about the exceptionality of mankind, whether or not there is something special about us that cannot be explained in terms of science’s standard materialist prog- ramme. The whole history of Western thought and philosophy revolves around this issue. For the best part of 2,500 years, the common perception held that two uniquely human attributes defined man’s exceptionality. Firstly, we are the sole witnesses of the splendours of the universe to which we belong, and, secondly, we have the power of reason to make sense of it.
The whole of Western thought is in some way or another caught up with that idea. It completely permeates the ideas of Plato, Aquinas, Aristotle, Newton and Descartes and so on. Then all that was turned on its head by Darwin. Not so much in 1859 with the Origin of Species, because all he is doing there is offering an essentially materialist explanation for the wonder and beauty of the living world. But it was in The Descent of Man, published in 1871, that he incorporates into his broad evolutionary argument the idea that we humans are different in degree but not in kind: that all aspects of ourselves, the human mind, our reason and imagination, moral codes, language, are explainable in terms of his all-encompassing theory. The Descent of Man, as we know, proved to be immensely influential because from it came the idea of Social Darwinism, which led to the promotion of what are now viewed as very reactionary social polices to do with eugenics – selective breeding of human stock and so on.

TYRRELL: Adopted enthusiastically by Hitler and the Nazis, among others.

LE FANU: Yes. But the surprise for me, when reading Darwin’s original arguments in both the Origin of Species and The Descent of Man, was to realise that they are much less intellectually substantial and rigorous than is commonly supposed. This led me to wonder “Where did it all start? Where did the idea come from that there was only a materialist explanation for everything?”
That, in turn, led me to reflect about that crucial moment in Western civilisation where we shifted our view away from implicitly recognising the exceptionality of man – particularly the unique nature of the non-material properties of the human mind, such as reason and imagination. By casting doubt on that exceptionality, Darwin changed the tenor of Western civilisation, in favour of the idea of limitless progress in which, by deploying a materialist scientific programme, we would solve all the substantial questions and bring happiness and fruitfulness to all.
The practical benefits of that reductionist materialist programme are indubitable and exemplary, but, to me, it has become clear that, as that programme progressed, so the notion that there might be non-material forces moulding or shaping our existence and the workings of our mind (which had been part of the commonsense of mankind for so long) was, in the process, forced underground. There is nothing more self evident to me than that there is a distinction between the material workings of the brain and the non-material product of the workings of the mind. We can talk about the heart and the lungs, for example – how they work, what they do – and explain them in completely materialistic terms. But no matter how much one examines the electrochemistry of the brain, we have no explanation for what a thought is. How do you distinguish between a banal thought and a profound one?

TYRRELL: And where is memory located?

LE FANU: Indeed. This is the point about what has happened recently in neuroscience. Brain scan- ning really has revolutionised our understand- ing of how the brain works, but at the same time it has brought forcibly to our attention the fact, long since neglected, or forced underground, of the seemingly incommensurability of material brain and non-material mind. It is entirely reasonable to try to explain the brain by finding out how different parts do different things in different circumstances. But what became clear right from the beginning of using those brain- scanning techniques was that there is really much more going on in the brain than can be accounted for by any materialist model.
The thing that really struck me, and indeed struck others, was that if you think of a word like ‘chair’, for example, and you either read the word ‘chair’ or hear it spoken or speak it yourself, the brain scanner will reveal relevant bits of the brain lighting up, such as the visual cortex when you are reading it, the auditory cortex when you are hearing it, and so on. But, if you are then asked to link together the word ‘chair’ with something that you might do with it, like sit on it, or climb up on it, or stack it, at that moment vast tracks of the brain light up. And that is an astonishing thing. How can we explain that the simplest form of intellectual activity around the meaning of one word involves essentially the entire brain? Just imagine what must be going on in our brains when we are having even the most casual of conversations!

TYRRELL: You point out in the book the amazing amount of energy the brain uses when something new is being learned – scans show that it all lights up. Then, once the learning is complete, the scans show that the brain hardly flickers at all when that new knowledge or skill is being used. It is a most interesting finding, which resonates with some ideas my colleague Joe Griffin and I have been exploring.
Your book seems to me to be facing up to the questions that reductionist research hasn’t addressed – and can’t, through its methodology – such as, what is the nature of conscious awareness and our sense of self and what causes relationships between different types of matter and energy in the universe? Very few scientists look at these conundrums.

LE FANU: Almost nobody is facing up to them! But I was impressed by one particular article, “The five mysteries of the mind and their consequences” by Robert Doty, published in 1998, in a journal called Neuropsychologia:
 “WHILE Western man has recognised for almost 2,500 years that mind derives exclusively from brain, clothing this fact with explanatory detail still proves elusive. First, is consciousness per se, created by processes demonstrably limited to certain, but still unspecified, neuronal arrangements and activities? Then there is perception, its ineffable qualia, and the fact that it arises from neuronal activity widely dispersed in space and time within networks of vast complexity. Voluntary control is equally dispersed as to neuronal participation, and nescient as to origin. An often overlooked mystery is the unity of mind and behaviour that prevails despite the potential for bihemispheric duplication of processes and experience. Finally, there is memory, which, while credibly within grasp of understanding as a synaptic alteration maintained via activation of the nuclear genome, still wholly defies comprehension when viewed as commanded recall of myriad, randomly selectable details of the past, a largely effortless and ‘instantaneous’ flood of memories. For two centuries science has endeavored to demonstrate how these mysteries proceed from physics and chemistry, as indeed they do; but viewed from this direction alone, mind is but the babbling of a robot, chained ineluctably to crude causality.” 
Essentially, what he did was integrate all the neuroscientific findings of the previous 20 years and ask where that left us, with regard to explaining the main attributes of the mind. The answer was – nowhere! We are still left contemplating how to account for the infinite variety of subjective awareness. How come listening to a Bach sonata is utterly different from smelling a wild rose? Consciousness: what is it? Memory: where is it? Free will: how does it work? Our sense of self, looking out on the world from somewhere just between the eyes, is absolutely the most certain thing that we can know. And that ‘self’ does two things. It has the capacity to integrate the entire workings of our mind – perception, memory and so on – into a single stream of consciousness, and, second, to maintain a unified sense of personality that remains the same over decades while, at the same time, subtly changing, maturing and adding memories. My understanding of contemporary neuroscience is that it can deal with these kind of phenomena only by denying their reality or by suggesting that they are all an illusion.

TYRRELL: And putting down anybody who thinks that there is something interesting to look at here.

LE FANU: That happens all the time. If our sense of ourselves was an illusion, just an epiphenomenon of the workings of our brain, it would completely annihilate our sense of freedom and responsibility. The materialist view sees everything as being explicable in terms of physics and chemistry and this undermines people’s confidence in themselves.

TYRRELL: I firmly believe that taking away our sense of responsibility and denying that we are here for a purpose depresses the human spirit – it defies the absolute need we have to feel that life is meaningful, something that materialism is constantly undermining. To me, there is nothing more miserable and dead than Richard Dawkins’ statement that, “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference”.

LE FANU: Yet that materialist view is now part of the air we breathe. So much so that even to suggest that there might be another way of viewing reality is to lay oneself open to the charge of being a metaphysician, a mystic or slightly out to lunch in some way. If ‘science’ decides that phenomena like consciousness, memory, free will and selective experience don’t fall within its domain of explanation, then it becomes accepted that these topics are not important issues and so they are, in effect, censored from common discourse. And that situation might have continued indefinitely were it not for the technical development of brain scanning, which led to our being able to watch the living brain in action. This has brought home in the most dramatic way the deep unfathomability and profundity of that relationship between the brain and the mind. It compels astonishment and respect.

TYRRELL: That sense of wonder comes across beautifully in your book but it astonishes me that many scientists don’t acknowledge it.

LE FANU: Well, science is not philosophically profound in that sense.

TYRRELL: Poets and philosophers don’t tend to get drawn to doing that sort of work.

LE FANU: You can’t get that sense of wonder if, as a working scientist in a highly specialised world, all you do is obsess about one problem. The fundamental tenet of the modern world that big science is very keen to propagate – that there is nothing in theory that it cannot explain – is undermined by the presumption that there might be more than science can tell us and more than one can know. This was well put by C S Lewis, when he described the difference between two forms of knowing, which he calls sapientia and scientia. Sapientia is the philosophical view, whereas scientia is knowledge of the materiality of the world that we are in thrall to. But the perversion of scientific authority known as ‘scientism’ – the argument that there is nothing that science cannot explain, given enough time – is now the leitmotif of the most common and popular presentations of science. And those who would challenge it are dismissed, in Dawkins’ words as “ignorant, stupid or insane”.

TYRRELL: That certainly draws a line in the sand! Do you think the way the media are celebrating the bicentenary of Darwin’s birth illustrates this particular leitmotif?

LE FANU: Well, he is perceived as belonging to the pantheon of great Britons: buried at Westminster Abbey, his image on the £10 note! But it is amazing how the media, for the most part, present Darwin’s arguments in such an uncritical light.
The uncritical hagiographic appraisal presents his ideas as being without serious contention and can reasonably be interpreted as the scientific establishment seeking to bolster its authority by portraying those who might dispute the veracity of current theories as being closet creationists. You get a sense of a closure of ranks on this issue: the Darwinian story must be seen to be beyond criticism.
Paradoxically, the more contentious the prevailing theories become, the greater that determination to ‘close ranks’. In 1982 – the 100th anniversary of Darwin’s death – there was an extraordinary correspondence in Nature arising out of an exhibition mounted at The Natural History Museum, which drew attention to many of the well-known problems. Since then, the empirical evidence has piled up showing the fossil record doesn’t, after all, confirm the story of gradual transformation – it seems that nothing happens for millions of years, and then suddenly there is a dramatic change and a new species appears. Then the genome projects showed us that there is genetically very little to distinguish between us and our primate cousins.

TYRRELL: But the implications of those findings are ignored?

LE FANU: Exactly! Buried. But by insisting on maintaining this orthodoxy, you can see that science’s authority begins to drain away. What it should be saying is that Darwin was partly right; he seemed to account for the small variations between closely related species. But we certainly don’t know it all, and he certainly seems to be wrong in saying that one can extrapolate from micro-evolution to macro-evolution and the origin of life itself. That seems to me to be an entirely reasonable position from which you could go on to discuss how little conventional evolutional theory ex- plains about ourselves: The ascent of man, the process of standing upright, acquiring a prodigiously large brain and a mind doesn’t fit into any conventional evolutionary account. Scientists shouldn’t be threatened by this, just accept that that’s the way things are. And that then opens the way to thinking about it in a different way.
The great problem about this energetic reassertion of the orthodox Darwinian view is that it suppresses the life blood of scientific enquiry – engaging with the anomalies and inconsistencies of current explanations. Because, wherever they are, that is where the next advance in scientific knowledge takes place. But if you say there are no inconsistencies, no anomalies – we understand it all – then essentially science is stuck and static.

TYRRELL: Like the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, or any other institution that says it has all the answers. A large number of scientists seem to have put themselves in that position.

LE FANU: Yes. Although I’m not referring here to the vast majority of practical working scientists. They go to their laboratories and do their experiments without bothering about these matters from one year’s end to the next. But the scientific establishment has invested massively in the notion that big science can solve any outstanding question.

TYRRELL: So, what got you interested in this whole question? What’s driving you? Most people don’t spend massive amounts of time researching, reading, thinking and writing about such issues.

LE FANU: I suppose it’s partly being an investigative journalist, just writing about things. You can’t properly write about a topic unless you really know what’s going on. And that takes you deeper and deeper into it.

TYRRELL: So many authors with something interesting to say tell me that! They investigate a topic in a journalistic way, put in a lot of effort, unravel clues, follow leads, and suddenly they realise they are seeing something that other people haven’t seen.

LE FANU: Yes, it has always struck me about science, right from the beginning, that there is more going on beneath the surface than is apparent. And I’m also fired up by the fact that I’m actually in a privileged position because, if I was in the thick of doing science myself, then I could not readily turn around and say, “Actually, I don’t think this research is going anywhere”. I might lose my job! So it’s only possible to make these observations if you stand outside the field and yet know enough not to be fazed by technical jargon and so on. Then you can ask the right questions and get a feel of what it all adds up to.

TYRRELL: You must also be possessed of a feeling that ‘truth’ actually means something; it’s not just an abstraction, a reification.

LE FANU: Yes. One is, of course, very, very aware of this in practising medicine. You can’t ignore symptoms because they don’t fit into some category or other. The answer lies in the details, the story that you are being told by the patient and how you interpret your investigations. And, if you wilfully decide to ignore something or other, things can go wrong. Also, if you do make a mistake, it is always apparent in retrospect what it is that you failed to do. People talk about medicine being an art, but the everyday practice of ordinary medicine seems to me to be profoundly scientific because it’s to do with how you make sense of different bits of knowledge and how it all comes together and coheres.

TYRRELL: The science goes on in the doctor’s mind, and his craft is in trying to get people to take the action they should in order to get better.

LE FANU: That’s it. I think that the idea that a pattern has to cohere is so important, even granted that one doesn’t necessarily know all the facts. One must be aware of explanations that are inadequate, either because they wilfully ignore important evidence, or because they are intrinsically implausible.
Then, writing about medicine has given me a respect for the immense complexities of human biology, where nothing about it is trivial. Even the most seemingly trivial thing is incredibly profound – even ear wax or fingernails, how they come to be and why. A feel for the complexity of things and a recognition that you can’t necessarily understand them but you can appreciate them is intrinsic to the proper practice of biological science. The problem, of course, is that within the context of the atomisation of biology and the remorseless onward march of the reductionist programme, there is absolutely no requirement to feel that complexity – something that in the past always generated new knowledge.
Karl Popper talks about ‘promissory materialism’, where scientists declare that, if we can’t explain it now, we give a promissory note that we will be able to explain it in 10 or 15 years’ time. That promissory materialist note is seriously out there, even if it takes us 10, 15, 20, or 400 years. But it’s impossible to imagine that happening because, when one gets down to the fundamental level, you can get no further than mapping the genes and the genetic instructions strung out along the double helix; then there’s nowhere further to go in that direction.
So science is left with the question, “How can we explain the glaring phenomenon that we have far too few genes to explain ourselves and that they are so similar in number and function to those of other organisms?” The only way to begin to come to terms with that sort of phenomenon is by building back upwards again, saying, well, perhaps it’s not just the genes – it’s obviously genes within the context of the cell, because the cell determines which gene switches on and off. And then, of course, it’s not just the cell because the cell is deciding what to do within the context of the tissues to which it belongs – liver, lung or brain or whatever – so obviously there must be some element of influence in that. And then, of course, they themselves operate within the context of the whole organism and so on. That poses a great intellectual challenge. It is an astonishing achievement to spell out the human genome, but it doesn’t give us even the slightest glimpse of what is actually entailed when those networks of genes are interacting with each other.

TYRRELL: You have mentioned that you had two epiphanous moments, in relation to this book.

LE FANU: Yes. The first was when I was thinking about that great icon of modern biology, the double helix, and the way in which Crick and Watson said they knew it must be true because it was so simple and elegant but knowable because, if you could reduce the whole phenomena of genetic instructions to the double helix, unravelling it and sorting out what all those chemical genes do should make everything clear. My epiphany came when I realised that the double helix was not beautiful and elegant because it was simple, but because it has to be simple.

TYRRELL: Otherwise it couldn’t replicate itself every time the cell divides and passes on genetic instructions.

LE FANU: And that means that the simplicity is profoundly illusory because what it has to do is somehow condense within itself all these instructions that might distinguish a fly from a man. To my knowledge, nobody has made that observation before, and yet it is absolutely vital for understanding why, after 20 or 30 years, the contribution of genetic research towards our understanding ourselves is vestigial. You can ransack my genome from head to toe and it wouldn’t tell you a single thing about who I am. So that notion that humanity is understandable because the simplicity of the DNA has made it decipherable was a false one. And recognising that the reverse is the case, is, I think, a really important insight.
My second epiphany came when reading the article in Neuropsychologia by Robert Doty on the five cardinal mysteries of the mind and realising that our mind, like the body, is composed of several interdigitating parts – sense of self, subjective awareness, free will, memory, reason and imagination – which all work together, enfolded. And you can see them as being distinct modules, each doing different things but working together for the whole, just like the kidneys or the heart or the lungs do in our bodies. The idea that different parts of human mental experience is made up of different modes was once common. You see it in Plato and Aristotle—

TYRRELL: —and in various wisdom traditions.

LE FANU: Yes. Doty’s five cardinal mysteries, roughly corresponded to the wisdom traditions’ account of the several attributes of the ‘soul’. So one could say that neuroscience has rediscovered the soul. Those two insights allow one the opportunity to see that it is now scientifically and intellectually respectable to recognise that there has to be something more than a purely materialistic account of humanity.

TYRRELL: And yet, you write in the book about the mind affecting the body physically. Up till now, there has been no objective observation of the medium that is communicating relationships from the mind to the body. But it must exist and therefore be material, however subtle. To say it’s non- material, which you do in your book, seems to me a bit of a cop-out. Whatever the mind consists of, it must have some characteristics in common with matter, surely? It wouldn’t be able to interact with it and produce physical effects if it didn’t – under hypnosis you can give suggestions to people and stigmata will quickly appear on their hands. I wonder if the answer has to do with the universe itself being conscious. Maybe genes, acting like antennae, pull information in from a field of consciousness that contains knowledge of all forms. And all living things have an individual share of universal consciousness: our personal consciousness. That would bring matter and what at the moment appears to be non-material mind together. I think science will have to face up to something like that at some point.

LE FANU: Well, I think the strongest argument against the exclusively materialist view is the absurdity of its simplifications. And beyond that, in a sense, it doesn’t matter how the non-material mind influences the brain, because, by definition, thoughts and emotions are non-material.

TYRRELL: But they must have energy.

LE FANU: They must have energy?

TYRRELL: Yes. Subjective energy. We directly feel the power of thoughts and emotions.

LE FANU: Well, yes, but are they measurable in materialist terms?

TYRRELL: Well, as you said in your book, brain scans show huge amounts of energy firing off when somebody is thinking or learning something new. But very little energy is burned when the brain uses what it has learned, so energy must have been released. Surely energy engages with matter all the time.

LE FANU: The point, it seems to me, is that we have free will and, therefore, our thoughts, whatever physical form they might take, must be able to influence the activities of our motor cortex. It is just completely inconceivable that we should be just the stooges of our brains. My humanistic and philosophical ‘survival of the human species’ view is that that is all you need to know. You just have to accept that we have free will and that the suggestion that free will is an illusion must be wrong. The question of how it actually happens is no more important for one’s daily life than knowing how it is that a single-cell embryo transforms itself into a human being.

TYRRELL: But what if pursuing this led to a breakthrough as to why human beings and our behaviour are significant, perhaps actually important to the universe, as opposed to being an insignificant, chance accumulation of matter? If you say that we must just accept consciousness and free will and there’s nothing more to discuss, you too are putting a limitation on what we can discover. I think we should carry on looking.

LE FANU: Oh, I agree with you on that. I suppose my point is that, in terms of people’s everyday lives and how people perceive themselves, free will is for real and that has implications for them. It might be that the latest findings of neuroscience, in bringing to our attention the limitations of the materialist view, will act as a trigger for an exploration of other possible ways of thinking about ourselves. And that might even prove to be neuroscience’s major legacy.

Article from the Human Givens journal, Vol 16 No 2, 2009. This article was conducted while the now published book, Godhead: The Brain's Big Bang, was being written, which takes some of the arguments briefly touched on here much further.

James Le Fanu is a medical doctor and writer. He graduated from Cambridge University and the Royal London Hospital in 1974 and has published research articles in the British Medical Journal, Lancet and Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. He writes a weekly column for both the Sunday and Daily Telegraph and has contributed to many newspapers and magazines, including the Spectator, New Statesman and New Scientist. His books include Eat Your Heart Out: the fallacy of the healthy diet and The Rise and Fall of Modern Medicine. His latest book, Why Us? How science rediscovered the mystery of ourselves, is published by HarperPress at £18.99.

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