For most men, climbing to the top of the medical profession, occupying a university chair, editing and contributing to the most authoritative textbook in their field, writing more than 200 scientific papers, chairing committees at the Royal College of Physicians and the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (among many other administrative tasks), running a specialised clinic for epilepsy in old age and undertaking the normal but onerous clinical duties of a consultant geriatrician would consume as much energy as they could reasonably muster. Certainly, it would be enough to receive a eulogy well above average in the obituary columns of the British Medical Journal.
But these are just the beginning of the accomplishments of Professor Raymond Tallis, who retired recently from the chair of geriatric medicine at Manchester University. He is also a philosopher whose work is treated with respect by professional philosophers. Among other things, he is the foremost critic of literary theory in the country, as well as a firm (and, what is not always the same thing, a well-informed) opponent of the view that the brain is but a computer. He is also an anti-Darwinian, not in the sense that he believes the world was created in six days and that the species are immutable, but in the sense that the neo-Darwinian account of Man is completely inadequate and does not in the slightest account for the phenomena of human existence.
If there is one characteristic that his writing always exemplifies, it is intellectual honesty. Pretension, either to profundity or to understanding, is his enemy, and he is always a devastating critic of it wherever he finds it. He is not a mystic, but he has a sense of mystery. He has no compunction in openly admitting our current state of scientific ignorance, but he does not think that we should therefore behave epistemologically like the geographers lampooned by Swift:
So geographers in Afric maps
With savage pictures fill their gaps,
And o'er unhabitable downs
Place elephants for want of towns.
In other words, we should openly admit what we don't know rather than pretend to knowledge that we don't have. This is a less common attitude than it ought to be.