Sunday 1 January 2017

Making Sense of the World. Raymond Tallis conducts Inner Circle Seminar 235 (21 May 2017)

Raymond Tallis

Making Sense of the World

Raymond Tallis
Inner Circle Seminar No. 235
introduced by
Anthony Stadlen
Sunday 21 May 2017
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Raymond Tallis is one of our best-loved invited speakers. He has shown in three 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, but is utterly his own. Psychotherapists are free to choose to go on making fools of themselves by pretending to be ‘validated’ by ‘neuroscience’; but their work, such as it is, speaks for itself, and no pseudo-scientific ‘validation’ can disguise this.

For an account of how Raymond Tallis writes his extraordinary books, see his recent 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:

Raymond Tallis writes about todays seminar:

The seminar will focus on the idea of a universe, and our lives within it, making sense. There are many dimensions tmaking sense. The comprehensibility celebrated by Einstein is the perceived order of the material world (including ourselves as material bodies). This order can be expressed in equations of increasing generality enabling us to predict its behaviour with ever greater precision and vastly extending our power to act upon it in pursuit of our goals. Religion focusses on the place of human beings in the universe and the God who underpins both its order and the meaning and destiny of human life. Philosophy historically has endeavoured to span both world picture of whatever is current science and the meaning of our lives. The arts and therapy focus very much on the sense we make of our individual and shared lives (or nature seen through the lens of our needs and desires). The seminar will take the form of a series of short (10-15 minute) talks each followed by a discussion.

The Inner Circle Seminars are a quest for truth in the foundations of psychotherapy. Helping clients ‘make sense of the world’  or, better, exploring and trying to make sense of the world together – is at the heart of what we try to do as psychotherapists. Or is it? Many ‘existential’ therapists dispute that there is such a phenomenon as the world; they see their task as facilitating clients’ exploration of ‘their’ ‘worlds’. Jaspers, Binswanger, von Gebsattel, Minkowski, Straus, Manfred Bleuler saw the ‘worlds’ of the ‘schizophrenic’, the ‘compulsive’, the  ‘manic’ as utterly alien and uncanny. One cannot, declared Jaspers, ‘empathise’ with such people. Buber, despite his talk of the ‘between, told Rogers, in their famous dialogue, that it was impossible to have an ‘I-Thou’ relationship with an ordinary psychotherapy patient, let alone a ‘schizophrenic’. Binswanger, while affirming Bubers account of ‘I-Thou’ relationships, also affirmed Jasperss assertion of the impossibility of ‘empathy’ with the uncanny people. But even in the absence of ‘empathy’, claimed Binswanger, his ‘daseinsanalytic’ studies of patients such as Ellen West can make ‘scientific’ sense of ‘their’ alien ‘worlds’. Is not this, far from being an existential advance on Freud, a retrogression to the preFreudian, deterministic, binary psychiatry of ‘degeneracy’? But many ‘existential’ therapists still regard Binswanger’s work as exemplary. On the other hand, Freud, Heidegger, Sartre, Szasz, Laing, Esterson, and I see all of us as living in the one world, striving to make sense of it together. Heidegger’s Dasein is Being-in-the-world-with-others’ [emphasis added], not each being in a separate encapsulated world. Neither the Talmud’s assertion that each person is a world, nor L√©vinas’s insistence on the absolute ‘traumatism or infinite height of the otherness of the other, contradicts this. Who is right? Which is the true existential tradition? Can this seminar contribute to an answer?

For existential therapists this seminar also raises the question of Viktor Frankls widely praised concept of the search for meaning. Many individuals have found meaning’ in leading lives of utter evil. How can sense or meaning, even Frankls later concept of ultimate meaning, be acceptable ultimate goals for therapy?

It is not reasonable to expect Raymond Tallis to pronounce on questions of psychotherapy: he is not a psychotherapist. But we may perhaps ask him his view on whether we live in the world, or each in his or her world, or whether this is a meaningless distinction. And your view will be warmly welcomed too.

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 fourth 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.

Venue: Durrants Hotel, 26–32 George Street, Marylebone, London W1H 5BJ
Cost: Psychotherapy trainees £120, others £150, some bursaries; coffee, tea, biscuits, 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  +44 (0) 7809 433 250

For further information on seminars, visit:

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.

No comments: