- Medicine, Mind and the Double Brain by Anne Harrington
Princeton, 336 pp, £24.70, November 1987, ISBN 0 691 08332 0
- The Multiple Self edited by Jon Elster
Cambridge, 269 pp, £9.95, September 1987, ISBN 0 521 34683 5
- Memory by Mary Warnock
Faber, 150 pp, £11.95, October 1987, ISBN 0 571 14783 6
Anne Harrington’s masterly account of homo duplex is more than just an account of the emergence of our understanding of our own inner dissymmetry. It sets the striving towards comprehension amid the social prejudices and pressures of the 19th century and shows how the expectations of the time moulded scientific opinion. We are made aware of the traffic of ideas about this most intimate of parts between those who were discovering and those who were using the discoveries. Here we see science in the grip of society.
Vol. 10 No. 13 · 7 July 1988
The connection between A. Harrington’s Medicine, Mind and the Double Brain, on the one hand, and Elster’s The Multiple Self and M. Warnock’s Memory, on the other, is so patently a matter of title only that to combine them in a single review and, worse, to enlist a ‘lecturer in physical chemistry’ to assess them is either editorial incompetence or prejudice (LRB, 19 May). In a four-column review, predictably, Elster and Warnock combined get half a column for their pains. And, predictably, Warnock’s resort to ‘poets, philosophers, novelists and other writers’ is ‘whimsical’ (Atkins equates the vacuities of religion with Wordsworth and Proust), when, one supposes, Warnock could and should have excerpted physical chemists, neurophysiologists and molecular biologists. Such worthies do not traffick in Proustian/Wordsworthian moonshine but deal, presumably, with ‘the real thing’. They are the ones to give us ‘sharp answers’, ‘science’ v. ‘literary butterfly-collecting’ (so much for Nabokov). Atkins ridicules Warnock’s obvious distinction between computer memory – efficient in retrieval but unconscious – and conscious, reflective (‘Proustian’) sense memory. He calls this inescapable distinction (inescapable to all but the most whimsical AIists) ‘wishful thinking’. He concludes with his version of the trinity – ‘computer science’, ‘artificial intelligence’ and the ‘neuro-sciences’. ‘What we get is Wordsworth,’ he laments, ‘instead of Turing.’ (What, in AI’s name, does Turing have to tell us about the subjective experience of memory, or the complexities of personal identity?) My advice to Warnock and Elster is, instead of closing in on the offices of the London Review with guns blazing, to picnic on the grass and think of picnics past, enjoyed by ancestral selves.