by Raymond Tallis
The NewHumanist, Volume 124 Issue 6 November/December 2009
1) Contemporary achievements in neurosciences are one of the most exciting scientific discoveries in XX century. However, results obtained in neurobiology, are very often misread, and used carelessly outside its proper field of applications.
2) Using of neuroscientific tools in legal theory, aesthetics, philosophy is inappropriate, because this kind of practices can in near future discredit the real achievements of neurobiology.
Tallis attacks in his article the whole new interdisciplinary program in the contemporary Science when he claims, that neurobiology, its tools, its achievements are strictly limited to medicine and its problems. This lack of faith in positive influence of neuroscience on other disciplines like law, aesthetics, economy is supported by referring to Benjamin Libet’s expriment and its criticisms, or to neuro-aesthetics view of art history. Tallis also presents skeptical approach when it comes to attempts of using neuroscience in order to inform policemakers how to enact good legal rules. His criticism has two roots: the first one is a believe that we are not our brains. In fact, we are so much more, and therefore, the society is not simple a set of stand-alone brains, but it is a collection of people. The conclusion which comes from this believe is not only we should wait in applying “neurotechnics” to, for example, legal problems, but in fact, we will not be able ever to use neuroscience outside of medicine. The second root of thesis stated above is methodological one: tools which are use in neuroscience are technologically poor, especially when it comes to provide answers for questions like “do we have a free will? or “why do I like this picture?”. Therefore, neuroscience is not a place when humanists should seek answers for their problems.
Tallis has a point when he speaks about technological level of neuroscientific tools, however he is wrong in his conclusions. We can use – for example – EEG to check if somebody is lying. In fact, we already did it in courtroom in United States. Thanks to EEG a man who was convicted on a charge of murder was released. And when it comes to Tallis’ believe that we are not our brains, well, it is only believe, an example of wishful thinking.