Friday 1 January 2021

Freedom: An Impossible Reality. Raymond Tallis conducts Inner Circle Seminar 272 (12 December 2021)


Freedom: An Impossible Reality

Raymond Tallis
conducts by Zoom
 Inner Circle Seminar No. 272
introduced by Anthony Stadlen
Sunday 12 December 2021
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Raymond Tallis 

Raymond Tallis is one of our best-loved invited speakers. Today’s seminar, Freedom: An Impossible Reality, is his eighth Inner Circle Seminar (his first was on 2 December 2012).
Professor Tallis has shown in seven 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 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 takes up again the question of human freedom, which he discussed in Inner Circle Seminar No. 216, Tensed Time and Free Will (28 June 2015).
Raymond Tallis writes:
Many of us have been persuaded by philosophers and psychologists that we do not have free will. We are not the ultimate source of action; nor do we have the capacity genuinely to choose between possible courses of action. The most compelling arguments against free will rest on the fact that actions are material events and our bodies (including our brains) are material objects. All such events and objects are stitched into a net of causation regulated by the unbreakable laws of nature. 

I will argue that the processes by which we discover the laws of nature and identify causes of events demonstrate the extent to which we stand outside of nature. This is further highlighted by our deliberate exploitation of those laws and the transformation of causes into handles by which we manipulate the physical world.

These unique powers are dramatically illustrated by the landscape of artefacts in which we pass much of our lives and the vast bodies of knowledge by which we guide ourselves. The fact that the most recent geologic age has been called the Anthropocene testifies to our ability – for good or evil – to shape the material environment in which we find ourselves.

I will then examine how this is possible. I look for explanation to the intentionality of consciousness in virtue of which we both engage with material world and yet are separate from it. This opens up a space that lies outside of nature. The space is vastly expanded by the unique degree to which intentionality in humans is developed. A trillion, trillion cognitive handshakes weave a distinctive human world.

That world is populated with possibilities that are not part of nature: nature is confined to actuality whereas possibilities exist only insofar as they are envisaged. Actions are the realization of possibilities envisaged by individuals or groups of individuals. As such they are neither the products of external causes nor expressions of the law-governed unfolding of nature. Nor, on the other hand, are they in breach of those laws.

The seminar will end with a discussion of the limits to human freedom. While the biological and cultural constraints on agency, the role of unconscious influences, and of accident and luck, will be acknowledged, they serve only to highlight, by contrast, the role of true freedom in much of day-to-day human life.

The heart of these seminars is dialogue, and it will of course be possible to argue in depth with Professor Tallis if you disagree with any of his points or positions.

Raymond Tallis is a philosopher, poet, novelist and cultural critic, and a retired physician and clinical neuroscientist. He ran a large clinical service in Hope Hospital Salford and an academic department in the University of Manchester. His research focussed on epilepsy, stroke, and neurological rehabilitation.
He trained in medicine at Oxford University and at St Thomas’ in London before going on to become Professor of Geriatric Medicine at the University of Manchester and a consultant physician. He was an editor and major contributor to two key textbooks in the field, The Clinical Neurology of Old Age and Textbook of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology, and author of over 200 original scientific articles, mainly in clinical neuroscience, including papers in Nature Medicine, Brain, Lancet. In 2000, he was elected Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences in recognition of his contribution to medical research. Among many prizes, he was awarded the Lord Cohen Gold Medal for Research into Ageing. He played a key part in developing guidelines for the care of stroke patients in the UK. From 2011-14 he was Chair, Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying (HPAD). He was a member of the Council of Royal College of Physicians between 2016 and 2019. He is a member of the criteria-setting group for the UK Research Excellence Framework 2021 in philosophy.
He has published fiction, poetry, and 30 books on the philosophy of mind, metaphysics, philosophical anthropology, and literary and cultural criticism. Aping Mankind (2010) was reissued in 2016 as a Routledge Classic. Of Time and Lamentation. Reflections on Transience (2017; 2019) a comprehensive an inquiry into the nature of time was widely praised. NHS SOS (2012), co-edited with Jacky Davis, examined the destructive impact of Tory policies on the NHS. Logos. An Essay on the Mystery of the Sense-Making Animal was published in Spring 2018. His most recent volume of verse – Sunburst – was published in November 2019.
A series of eight seminars on Humanism given in the philosophy department of Charles University Prague, formed the basis of his book, published in 2020, Seeing Ourselves. Reclaiming Humanity from God and Science. A defence of free will – Freedom. An Impossible Reality – was published in September 2021. His seminar today will expound its argument.
His current projects include Prague 22. A Book of Tenuous Connections – which is a collection of essays; and De Luce. Reflections on My Time in the Light – a philosophical autobiography.
In 2009, the Economist Intelligent Life Magazine described him as one of the world’s leading polymaths. The critic Stuart Kelly said of him in Scotland on Sunday in 2016 that he is one of the very few contemporary thinkers whom I would unequivocally call a genius. He has four honorary degrees: DLitt (Hull, 1997) and Litt.D. (Manchester, 2001) for contributions to the humanities; and DSc (St George’s Hospital Medical School, 2015; University of East Anglia, 2017) for contributions to research in medicine.

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:
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 eighth 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.
This will be an online seminar, using Zoom.
Cost: Psychotherapy trainees £140, others £175, some bursaries; no refunds or transfers unless seminar cancelled
Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra AvenueLondon N22 7XE
Tel: +44 (0) 7809 433250  

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.

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