In Raymond Tallis' book, Aping Mankind – about which he was talking this week at the British Academy – he describes the cultural disease that afflicts us when we assume that we are nothing but a bunch of neurons.
Neuromania arises from the doctrine that consciousness is the same as brain activity or, to be slightly more sophisticated, that consciousness is just the way that we experience brain activity.
If you think the brain is a machine then you are committed to saying that composing a sublime poem is as involuntary an activity as having an epileptic fit. You will issue press releases announcing “the discovery of love” or “the seat of creativity”, stapled to images of the brain with blobs helpfully highlighted in red or blue, that journalists reproduce like medieval acolytes parroting the missives of popes. You will start to assume that the humanities are really branches of biology in an immature form.
Tallis doesn’t claim to know. He described himself as an “ontological agnostic”, the nature of consciousness being a tremendous mystery. “We just don’t know how we should think about being and how mind fits into nature. But we’ll never learn if we start out taking all the wrong paths.”