Saturday 1 January 2022

What science can’t see: From what-is to that-it-is. Raymond Tallis conducts Inner Circle Seminar 277 (11 December 2022)

What science cant see

From what-is to that-it-is

Raymond Tallis
conducts by Zoom
Inner Circle Seminar No. 277
introduced by Anthony Stadlen
Sunday 11 December 2022
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Raymond Tallis

Raymond Tallis is one of our best-loved invited speakers. Today he conducts his ninth Inner Circle Seminar, and we celebrate the tenth anniversary of his first Inner Circle Seminar which he conducted on 2 December 2012. His seminar today, What science cant see: From what-is to that-it-is, goes to the heart of the thinking which has informed all his thirty books and all the seminars he has conducted for us. This thinking is in harmony with the underlying philosophy and raison d'être of the Inner Circle Seminars as a whole. 
Professor Tallis has shown in eight 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. 

Raymond Tallis introduces his seminar today as follows:
What Science Can’t See. From What-is to That-it-is 
One of the most fundamental philosophical mysteries is also one of the most difficult to see. It is that, in conscious subjects, what-is is made explicit as that-it-is or (more ponderously) that-it-is-the-case. We take this transition for granted and overlook it because it is the ground on which our investigations and our thinking stand.
Bringing explicitness to the forefront of our thinking is an essential step towards highlighting the limitations of science and challenging the claim that the authority of science extends to the fundamental nature of what-is, including human subjects. Science necessarily by-passes the transition in virtue of which it is itself possible. In its pursuit of the nature of what-is, from a purely objective, quantitative viewpoint, it conceals the explicitness of which it is a late, sophisticated manifestation.
In the seminar, I shall examine the necessary failure of science to account for the transition from what-is to that-it-is. This is most clearly manifested in the impossibility of seeing how conscious subjects arise out of neural activity. This will open on to a discussion of the attempt to break the mind-brain barrier by describing events on either side of the barrier as ‘information’ – as that-it-is – thus seeming to promise to dissolve the barrier and also to render conscious experience amenable to treatment by objective, quantitative science.
The final element of the seminar will be a more general examination of what lies at the heart of science – measurement – and the belief that what-is can be reduced to ‘how-much’. By this means natural science is given a unique cognitive authority. The paradox of the Measurement Problem in quantum mechanics – according to which what-is is indeterminate until it is measured – exposes the error of privileging the quantitative and objective take on what-is. The reduction of what-is to how-much-it-is not only overlooks the intrinsic nature of what-is but also the transition to that-it-is by which it is made explicit.

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.

Note added the evening after the seminar, 11 December 2022:

Raymond Tallis clarified a possible misunderstanding, in response to questions during the seminar itself. His terms what-is’ and that-it-is are not meant to contrast beings with Being, the ontic with the ontological, or the fact that something is with the wonder that there is something at all. He means to indicate, rather, the so-called hard problem of consciousness: how can matter, such as the brain, become conscious, as it is supposed to do? He decided to replace the term that-it-is in his future writing with another term to avoid this ambiguity.  

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’s Hospital 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 MedicineBrain, 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 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 May 2021 and an issue of the philosophy journal Human Affairs was devoted to it. Professor Tallis has based his last three Inner Circle Seminars on these books.
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 ninth 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.

No comments: