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Nicholas Humphrey

Emeritus Professor of Psychology, London School of Economics

Nicholas Humphrey has migrated from neurophysiology, through animal behaviour to evolutionary psychology and the study of consciousness. He did research on mountain gorillas with Dian Fossey in Rwanda, he was the first to demonstrate the existence of ‘blindsight’ after brain damage in monkeys, he originated the idea of the ‘social function of intellect’, and he has recently explained the evolutionary basis of the placebo effect. He has held positions at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and is now emeritus professor at the LSE. Honours include the Martin Luther King Memorial Prize, the Pufendorf medal, and the Mind and Brain Prize. His book Sentience: The Invention of Consciousness will be published by Oxford University Press in October 2022, and by MIT Press in February 2023.

Written by Nicholas Humphrey



Recent Comments

Humans are the only animals who crave oblivion through suicide

Nicholas Humphrey

Gord is right, of course, the idea of an “anti-evolutionary force” makes no sense. The question at the head of this discussion has been badly phrased. The real question I hope my essay raises is whether the temptation to suicide was a maladaptive consequence of human beings’ evolving to the point where they understood that death brings mental oblivion. My suggestion is that, once humans understand this, some at least might choose to die for this very reason – seeing oblivion, in Hamlet’s words, as “a consummation devoutly to be wished”. In that case, yes, this kind of egoistical suicide could have been a drain on human biological fitness.

I’m sorry that several discussants should h...

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Seeing and somethingness

Nicholas Humphrey

Several commentators have complained that the theory doesn’t really address the ‘hard problem’ and the brain basis of qualia remains as mysterious as ever. I can only say look again at my essay. From the outset I argue that the hard problem, as usually stated, is a non-problem. We don’t have to explain how the brain activity that gives rise to sensations can actually have phenomenal properties – redness, sweetness and so on. Rather, we must explain how brain activity can represent sensations as having these properties – how it can give rise to the idea of redness, etc., in the subject’s mind. I readily agree that phenomenal properties are quite special, and not reducible...

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