The Inner Eye

The Inner Eye: Social Intelligence in Evolution

Oxford University Press, 2002 (new edition; first published 1986)

Where does consciousness come from? What is it? Where is it taking us?

In 1971 Nicholas Humphrey spent three months at Dian Fossey's gorilla research centre in Rwanda. It was there, among the mountain gorillas that he began to focus on the philosphical and scientific puzzle that has fascinated him ever since: the problem of how a human being or animal can know what it is like to be itself. The Inner Eye describes where these original speculations led: to Humphrey's now celebrated theories of the 'social function of intellect' and of human beings as natural born 'mind-readers'. Easy to read, passionately argued, yet never less than scientifically profound, this book remains the best introduction to new thinking about 'theory of mind' and its implication for human social life.

Review of  Channel 4 TV Series in The Times

A rare series to inspire thought
22 April 1986
The Times

Television is the great non-chemical narcotic of our age. The Inner Eye (Channel 4) is one of the rare category of programmes which seeks to overcome this property and stimulate thought.
The series, which is now halfway through, set out the philosophical argument about human consciousness evolved by Nicholas Humphrey. Although there is an accompanying book from Faber & Faber, the series is a genuine work of television not restricted by the literary forms which frequently kill potentially provoking programmes.
The first two-thirds of the programme advanced Humphrey's concept of consciousness as a form of psychic self-awareness, a mental function like that of an extra sense organ which allows humans - and perhaps also chimpanzees - to be aware of their own mental processes.
From this, he argues, proceeds the ability to guess the mental processes of other humans, and from that evolved trust and co-operation, the advantages which would ensure that consciousness paid its way in terms of Darwinian evolution.
Humphrey's argument was illustrated with considerable sensitivity by inspirational sequences compiled specially, and by a selection of clips of primate and human behaviour. The programme also included research film showing a monkey which had been brain-damaged in a laboratory experiment; the animal had sight and could use it, but believe itself to be blind. A human, similarly injured in an accident, behaved in the same way.
Following this exposition, the theory was evaluated by the theologian Don Cupitt, the psychologist Michael Morgan and Richard Dawkins, a lecturer in animal behaviour. Their comments were presented as extracts from scripted pieces to camera rather than in the cheap-skate studio discussion format which is capable of reducing the most subtle arguments to confrontational film-flam.
Most television programmes are at pains not to provoke thought - in certain bands of the schedule viewers select, with the predictability of Pavlov's dogs, the most tranquilizing programme on offer. At best, the television viewer is required to be a passive recipient of information which is communicated with the phoney authority of a visual medium.
The Inner Eye is a series which successfully vanquishes some of these shortcomings while making the best use of television's advantages as a medium of communication. As such, it represents a genuine advance in television technique. (c) Times Newspapers Ltd, 1986