Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Seeing Ourselves. 2. Reclaiming Humanity from God and Science. Raymond Tallis conducts Inner Circle Seminar 263 (6 December 2020)


Seeing Ourselves
2. Reclaiming Humanity from God and Science

Raymond Tallis
conducts Inner Circle Seminar No. 263
introduced by Anthony Stadlen
Sunday 6 December 2020
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Raymond Tallis 
Raymond Tallis is one of our best-loved invited speakers. Today he conducts his seventh Inner Circle Seminar (his first was on 2 December 2012). It is the second seminar of a pair with the joint title Seeing Ourselves. The first, on 2 June 2019, had the subtitle Rescuing the Self from Science, and the second of the pair, today, has the subtitle Rescuing the Self from God and Science. He explicitly regards it as a summation of the symphony of seven seminars which culminates today. (He reassures us, though, that there are still more seminars to come.)

Tallis has shown in six profound Inner Circle Seminars that he is one of the world’s leading demystifiers of what he calls the ‘neuroscience delusion’ (‘neuromania’) and the ‘intellectual plague of biologism’ (‘animalism’). His ruthless, good-humoured exposure of reductive natural-scientism continues the tradition of Heidegger and Szasz, for example, but is utterly his own. Psychotherapists are free to choose to go on pretending to be ‘validated’ by ‘neuroscience’; but their work, such as it is, sometimes radically transforming and helpful, sometimes best passed over in silence, speaks for or against itself as the case may be, and no pseudo-scientific ‘validation’ (or ‘invalidation’) can disguise this.

Raymond Tallis is one of the select few who affirms and advocates the devoted use of devotedly human language to depict and describe the human world and human relationships.

In his book Logos Professor Tallis exposes the absurdity of the argument that evolutionary biology or neuroscience show that our thinking is merely a function of our bodies-as-objects-for-science and therefore can have no truth-value of its own unless it is in some way itself derived from evolutionary biology or neuroscience, which are taken to be ‘objectively true. But those sciences are themselves human creations, and therefore, by this argument, not ‘objectively true. Professor Tallis remarks that those who use this argument are worthy successors of the Cretan of old who said all Cretans were liars.

In todays seminar he continues to focus on the so-called problem of the self . 

Raymond Tallis writes about todays seminar:
The seminar will bring together and build on themes from my previous seminars. Their central thesis was that humans are neither supernatural beings hand-made by God nor mere pieces of nature. The human subject is transcendent in ways that will be discussed. I will argue that the most important task for humanism is to reclaim this transcendence from religious discourse.
I will challenge the notion that a secular vision is necessarily that of a disenchanted universe. The common view that science has proved the world to be meaningless is undermined by the fact that the human subject and science itself cannot be accommodated in the scientific world picture.
The question then arises as what we shall do with a positive vision of humanity? I will address the fear that,  in the absence of belief in God, humans will lack a moral compass. The response will examine the empirical evidence regarding godless societies; will discuss whether religion will make us better or worse behaved; and will look at secular sources of morality.
The seminar will then examine ways in which we might flourish in the face of the knowledge that we die and that our aims and ambitions are necessarily transient, even if they are fulfilled. A life without religion lacks sacred spaces, a certain profound sense of belonging,  the convergence of meaning and purpose in one’s life comparable to that enjoyed by believers whose life is devoted to  praising, serving, and worshipping God, and the consolation of a hereafter and the restoration of the losses and injustices  of earthly life.
I will touch on the perils, pitfalls and disappointments of life devoted to the good of others. I will look at other secular sources of salvation: gratitude; love; art; and philosophy. An overarching theme will be that of an enduring project that binds our days each to each and exorcises the banality of mere ‘and’. I will then discuss the idea of humanism as a religion. Finally, I will discuss the potential for a dialogue between believers and non-believers at the very least discussing what each may learn from the other about the dangers of a descent from beneficent visions to collective thuggery.
The seminar will raise more questions than it provides answers.
For an account of how Raymond Tallis writes his extraordinary books, see his article ‘My writing day: In my favourite pub, the staff turn down the speaker in my writing corner’, in The Guardian Review of 29 April 2017:
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/apr/29/my-writing-day-raymond-tallis

Raymond Tallis was a Professor of Geriatric Medicine and consultant physician in Health Care of the Elderly. He has published two hundred research articles in the neurology of old age and neurological rehabilitation, as well as a novel, short stories, three volumes of poetry, and thirty books on philosophy of mind, philosophical anthropology, literary theory, the nature of art, and cultural criticism. He has received many awards and honorary degrees. In 2009, the Economist listed him as one of the world’s twenty leading polymaths.

Nicholas Fearn wrote in The Independent:

When Kirsty Young was asked to name her favourite guest on Desert Island Discs, the rock star Paul Weller was beaten into second place, for her own luxury item would be the writer Raymond Tallis.

Raymond Tallis, whose seventh Inner Circle Seminar this will be, kindly confirms that our seminar structure, in which dialogue is of the essence, enables him to communicate and reflect on his ideas. He wrote, after his first Inner Circle Seminar, The Intellectual Plague of Biologism, on 2 December 2012:

The seminar was for me an incredible experience. I have never previously had the opportunity to discuss the topics we covered in such depth with a group of people who came at it from such different angles but in a way that I found illuminating. I learned a lot. It was a tremendous privilege.


It is hoped that this seminar will be at the venue specified below, but if necessary this will be an online seminar, using Zoom.

Venue: Durrants Hotel, 26–32 George Street, Marylebone, London W1H 5BJ
Cost: Psychotherapy trainees £132, others £165, some bursaries; coffee, tea, Durrants rock, mineral water included; payable in advance; no refunds or transfers unless seminar cancelled
Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra AvenueLondon N22 7XE
Tel: +44 (0) 20 8888 6857     E-mail: stadlen@aol.com
For further information on seminars, visit: http://anthonystadlen.blogspot.com/


The Inner Circle Seminars were founded by Anthony Stadlen in 1996 as an ethical, existential, phenomenological search for truth in psychotherapy. They have been kindly described by Thomas Szasz as ‘Institute for Advanced Studies in the Moral Foundations of Human Decency and Helpfulness’. But they are independent of all institutes, schools, and universities.

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