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Minds, Brains and Science takes up just the problems that perplex people, and it does what good philosophy always does: it dispels the illusion caused by the specious collision of truths. How do we reconcile common sense and science? Searle argues vigorously that the truths of common sense and the truths of science are both right and that the only question is how to fit t Minds, Brains and Science takes up just the problems that perplex people, and it does what good philosophy always does: it dispels the illusion caused by the specious collision of truths. How do we reconcile common sense and science? Searle argues vigorously that the truths of common sense and the truths of science are both right and that the only question is how to fit them together. Searle explains how we can reconcile an intuitive view of ourselves as conscious, free, rational agents with a universe that science tells us consists of mindless physical particles. He briskly and lucidly sets out his arguments against the familiar positions in the philosophy of mind, and details the consequences of his ideas for the mind-body problem, artificial intelligence, cognitive science, questions of action and free will, and the philosophy of the social sciences.


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Minds, Brains and Science takes up just the problems that perplex people, and it does what good philosophy always does: it dispels the illusion caused by the specious collision of truths. How do we reconcile common sense and science? Searle argues vigorously that the truths of common sense and the truths of science are both right and that the only question is how to fit t Minds, Brains and Science takes up just the problems that perplex people, and it does what good philosophy always does: it dispels the illusion caused by the specious collision of truths. How do we reconcile common sense and science? Searle argues vigorously that the truths of common sense and the truths of science are both right and that the only question is how to fit them together. Searle explains how we can reconcile an intuitive view of ourselves as conscious, free, rational agents with a universe that science tells us consists of mindless physical particles. He briskly and lucidly sets out his arguments against the familiar positions in the philosophy of mind, and details the consequences of his ideas for the mind-body problem, artificial intelligence, cognitive science, questions of action and free will, and the philosophy of the social sciences.

30 review for Minds, Brains and Science: The 1984 Reith Lectures

  1. 5 out of 5

    Trevor

    Minds, Brains and Science – 1984 Reith Lectures I’ve been wondering how I ought to review this book. The options are to just say that I really enjoyed it and that I think people should read it - particularly given it is on such an interesting subject. But that seems a bit pointless. I then thought I might run through the various chapters and give a summary of them – which was what I had a mind to do until I actually sat down at the keyboard. Now, I think I’m just going to ramble. (No surprise the Minds, Brains and Science – 1984 Reith Lectures I’ve been wondering how I ought to review this book. The options are to just say that I really enjoyed it and that I think people should read it - particularly given it is on such an interesting subject. But that seems a bit pointless. I then thought I might run through the various chapters and give a summary of them – which was what I had a mind to do until I actually sat down at the keyboard. Now, I think I’m just going to ramble. (No surprise there, I guess). Let’s say you had a machine and you wanted to know if it was conscious or intelligent or not. How would you go about testing it to find out? I remember the first time I read about Turing and his test – but mostly about his life and how outraged I was at him being persecuted for being homosexual – if you don’t know this story then http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Turing Turing was the man who more or less invented the modern computer and he turned his mind to how one could go about telling if a computer was intelligent. His test was to put someone in front of a computer screen and to have that person engage in a series of conversations with a real person and with a computer program. The person in front of the computer screen would only see the output, either from the person typing in another room, or from the computer program – they would have no way of knowing which was which. And that is the point of the test. If the person engaged in this conversation is unable to tell which is the computer and which is the person – well, then we would have to say the computer is intelligent. There are still people who run versions of the Turing test today, although the questions are limited to a specific field of learning to give the programmers a chance. My favourite story about someone running the Turing test involves the person who was asking the questions (about the life and plays of Shakespeare – if I remember correctly) deciding that they were talking to a computer – rather than an English teacher – because no ‘real’ person could know so much about Shakespeare. I like to think of this as the inverse Turing test. It sounds like a pretty good idea, this Turing test. If you can’t tell the difference between a person and a computer when you are talking to them, well, that has to mean there is Artificial Intelligence … doesn’t it? According to Searle the answer to that question is no. And to prove it he came up with his own thought experiment called the Chinese Room – which he describes in this book. You are brought into a glass room and in that glass room there is a pile of Chinese symbols and beside them a series of instructions. The instructions are in English – a language you are fluent in – about what to do with the Chinese symbols – a language you have no knowledge of at all. The instructions say that if someone comes to the window and holds up a sign that has a squiggle, line, squiggle on it you are to locate this sign and then hold up the sign from the pile that is indicated by the instructions. People come to the window and hold up signs and you look through your instructions and hold up the corresponding signs from your pile. What you don’t realise is that the people outside the room are Chinese speakers and their signs says things like, “Do you know where the bathroom is?” and your signs say things like, “Yes, take the first left, you can’t miss it.” Now, the person outside the room would naturally assume you can speak Chinese – but do you? You see, you are doing exactly what the computer in Turing’s test is doing. The person outside the room can have no way of telling the difference between you speaking Chinese and you following a series of non-Chinese instructions. The outputs are exactly the same – but can you say you speak Chinese on the basis of this test? I think the answer has to be no. This is my problem with Searle – he makes so much sense and is so clear and so apparent that it is hard not to just agree with him. And this is true even though some of his conclusions ought to make me feel a bit concerned. For example, he says elsewhere that Materialism is the greatest mistake facing social science today – now, I ought to find that a concerning statement – but he explains his concerns with Materialism so lucidly that it is hard to disagree with him. Searle’s argument is that consciousness requires intention. It doesn’t matter if you do all of the acts, have all the appearance of being conscious, the thing that makes consciousness ‘real consciousness’ is intention. The second half of this book looks at the nature of intention and how actions, in as far as they are actions, need to be ‘intended’. Of course, intentions are not simple things, rather we have clusters of intentions and these are realised (if at all) through the application of our will and a complex interrelationship of our skills and abilities. He has much of interest to say about the nature of free will and whether or not social sciences will ever be ‘proper sciences’ in the sense that physics is a science. He thinks not, but interestingly because the social sciences deal with things that are neither physical nor mental – but somewhere in between – like ‘inflation’ or ‘marriage’. To Searle the mind is a property of the brain, in much the same way that digestion is a property of the stomach. He does not say that it exists separately from the brain, just as digestion does not exist separate from the stomach – but chopping up the stomach is never going to completely explain digestion, and chopping up the brain is never going to completely explain thinking. There is a complex interrelationship between mind and brain and it makes little sense to follow the Cartesian dualism of the mind/body split and try to work out which is physical and which is mental – just as it is equally senseless to follow the strict materialist view in effectively denying the existence of all mental states. The thing I like most about Searle is that he says things like it is pointless trying to deny that we have a subjective consciousness (a first person consciousness, if you will) that feels like we have both intentionality and free will. Any theory that denies we have intentions needs to back up this suggestion with some pretty serious explaining. However, because modern science seems to spend an awful lot of time providing explanations for the world that seem counterintuitive we almost think consciousness needs to be explained in a way that makes no sense too. Ironically, the fact some modern theories seem daft has actually stood in their favour. Like I said, I have a very strong attraction for anyone who can explain complex ideas in simple and engaging ways. I really like people who can come up with clever and new ways of tackling difficult questions and make the answers seem to shine. Sometimes I do worry that I am being blinded by his clarity and the eloquence of his explanations – but then, it is generally better to be blinded by clarity than it is to be dumbfounded by convoluted nonsense. I can think of no better use to put one’s mind to than reading one of Searle’s engaging books. And this is a particularly engaging one.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jose Moa

    We have here a little big book about the deep, hard, mind body problem and the AI. The interesting here is that Searle takes a intermediate way ,between the reductionist physicalism that denies that we have inherently subjetive conscient mental states, and that they were so reals and so irreductibles as any other thing in the universe, and the dualism. The book is divided in six parts. The first is devoted to the mind- brain problem,Searle claims that there are four features of the mental phenomeno We have here a little big book about the deep, hard, mind body problem and the AI. The interesting here is that Searle takes a intermediate way ,between the reductionist physicalism that denies that we have inherently subjetive conscient mental states, and that they were so reals and so irreductibles as any other thing in the universe, and the dualism. The book is divided in six parts. The first is devoted to the mind- brain problem,Searle claims that there are four features of the mental phenomenology that have made really hard this matter, and the features are : the consciousness,the intentionality,the subjectivity and thr mental causation. In few words the autor says that the mind is a emergent phenomenon of the fisical brain,is a new fact rised up of the collectivity of the pieces that form it.The whole is more that the sum of parts As an example of emergence we have the ice that is a new state upsurged of the community of the electromagnetic interactions of the wáter molecules, or a termite mound that is a new thing that emerges of the collective phisical and chemical interactions of the termites comunity. As without wáter molecules there is not ice, or as without termites there is not termite mound, so without brain there is not mind. The emergent phenomenon is difficult to explain by the properties of the parts,is not evident the existence of a termite mound by observing isolated termites. The matter is so neccesary for the existence of the mind. The second part is entitled: Can a computer think?. Here Searle is a brillian oponent tho the strong AI in the sense that to proces information formally is not enought to have mental processes in the human sense. In brief his reasoning is that the brains works with sintaxis and semantics,the computer programs work only with formal sintaxis that isnt enought for semantics,they use the significant not the mean.The computer programs are defined by its formal or sinctactic structure. By that any computer program running in a computer isnt enought to generate a mind. Searle by this claims that the brain cant be only a digital computer, it cant be reduced to a formal algoritm,the brain in its architecture as in its "operative system"is different of a digital processor. But he dont denies that artificial minds can be build ,ever that they have a architecture a complexity and a eficiency equivalent to the human brain. To make clear the fact that a formal sintaxis cant think Searle put the famous example of "the chinesse room" As a universal Turing machine is the basis of the digital computers, the conclusión seems to be that none Turing machine could have a mind. In the third part searle makes a critic to the cognitivism ,and in brief he puts the example of a watch,Suposse the ancient humans find a spring mechanical watch that measures the time, but it is enclosed in a unaccesible box, and they are unable of open it to study it and know it inner working, then in a try to understand the inner working of the watch the humans build a sand watch that it also efficiently measures the time. Could claim us from this that the humans have now a better knowledge of the inner working of the watch in the box?. The fourth part is about of the structure of the action. The fifth part is about of the social sciences perspective. Personally I have found this parts less relevants, as for sake of brevity I will not review they. The sixth part is about the free Will. For Searle this a very hard problem,he claims that the concept of free will is only applicable to conscient beings and that at a very fundamental level it dont exist as our mental states are determined at microphysical levels but that the sense of free will is in some way a appareance,a sensation that is hard wired to our intentional human behaviour. A strongly recomended book to everybody interested in the mind body problem.

  3. 5 out of 5

    James Swenson

    In this collection of six talks, delivered as the BBC's Reith Lectures, Searle presents his argument against the strong artificial intelligence theory, and attempts to demystify the connection between body and mind, before confessing himself baffled by the question of free will. No shame in that! I respect Searle's thesis, but his anti-AI argument does not seem to me to be fully justified. [Unsurprising... this is a series of radio lectures, not a scientific publication, and I know that he gives In this collection of six talks, delivered as the BBC's Reith Lectures, Searle presents his argument against the strong artificial intelligence theory, and attempts to demystify the connection between body and mind, before confessing himself baffled by the question of free will. No shame in that! I respect Searle's thesis, but his anti-AI argument does not seem to me to be fully justified. [Unsurprising... this is a series of radio lectures, not a scientific publication, and I know that he gives a fuller account of his ideas elsewhere.] He concludes that: For any artefact that we might build which had mental states equivalent to human mental states, the implementation of a computer program would not by itself be sufficient. Rather the artefact would have to have powers equivalent to the powers of the human brain. (p. 41) But I take it that these "powers of the human brain" are what Searle calls its "causal powers" (p. 41) and describes earlier: First, how is consciousness possible? ...[T]here are certain specific electrochemical activities going on among neurons... and these processes cause consciousness.... [S]econd... how can atoms in the void have intentionality?... [E]xperiences... are all caused by brain processes and they are realised in the structure of the brain, and they are all intentional phenomena.... Our third problem: how do we accommodate the subjectivity of mental states within an objective conception of the real world? ...My present state of consciousness is a feature of my brain, but its conscious aspects are accessible to me in a way that they are not accessible to you.... Thus the existence of subjectivity is an objective fact of biology.... Fourth... [how] could anything as `weightless' and `ethereal' as a thought give rise to an action? The answer is that thoughts are not weightless and ethereal. When you have a thought, brain activity is actually going on. (pp. 23-25) But on these grounds, Searle does not seem to have justified his claim that the implementation of a computer program cannot have the causal powers of a brain. He says this is so because a computer program is purely syntax, and cannot have meaning. But this argument is fallacious, because when a computer program is executed, it is no longer purely syntax: it is realized in a physical system, and we know, from Searle's earlier argument, that there is no reason to believe that such a system cannot embody intentional phenomena. [Searle would not agree: he claims that actual biological brains are necessary, but he has not presented an argument that supports this claim.] The difference, says Searle, is that we know that our own mental processes are intentional, though they are realized in physics. We can't make the same claim for a computer program, because we are not computer programs -- but (because we don't expect to be able to observe the consciousness of others) this doesn't prove that the execution of a computer program cannot generate intentional mental processes in the computer. Instead, Searle makes the argument on the basis of his famous Chinese room thought experiment. This forces him to draw a sharp distinction between intelligence and the simulation of intelligence. This distinction, however, is unverifiable: there is no way to distinguish the two, just as one cannot prove that other humans have genuine intelligence. Searle's case, therefore, falls from the realm of logic to bald assertion: only brains can think.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jon Stout

    A good survey of the philosophy of mind, this book is an interesting contrast to the pragmatic approach of Richard Rorty, whom Searle has often criticized. It covers all of the bases, such as: Do machines think? Do people think like computers? Is there free will? Originally given as lectures, the chapters show a clear, logical progression. A good survey of the philosophy of mind, this book is an interesting contrast to the pragmatic approach of Richard Rorty, whom Searle has often criticized. It covers all of the bases, such as: Do machines think? Do people think like computers? Is there free will? Originally given as lectures, the chapters show a clear, logical progression.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ouroboros

    1984 - Reith Lectures I. resolving the mind-body dilemma: 4 properties of mental states: 1. consciousness - arising out of physical systems 2. intentionality - mental states concerning w/ worlds other than the mind itself 3. subjectivity - in an objective reality 4. causality - twds physical systems --------------- all mental phenomena are caused by processes going on in the brain mental phenomena are features of the brain causation broadly defined: higher level features of the very system whose behavior 1984 - Reith Lectures I. resolving the mind-body dilemma: 4 properties of mental states: 1. consciousness - arising out of physical systems 2. intentionality - mental states concerning w/ worlds other than the mind itself 3. subjectivity - in an objective reality 4. causality - twds physical systems --------------- all mental phenomena are caused by processes going on in the brain mental phenomena are features of the brain causation broadly defined: higher level features of the very system whose behavior at the micro-level causes those features ---------------- these processes cause [give rise:] to consciousness intentionality: requires understanding of detailed description of how phenomena are caused by biological processes while simultaneously realized in biological systems subjectivity of mental states w/in objective conception of real world? the existence of subjectivity IS an objective fact of biology. mental causation -- how mental events can cause physical events. the existence of two causal levels in the brain: macro-level: mental processes micro-level: neuronal processes the higher level causal features are both caused by and realized in the structure of the lower level elements. Mental processes are caused by the behavior of elements of the brain emergent, second order properties feature realized in structure made up of said elements strong AI - b/c that is all there is to having thoughts & feelings implementing the right program 42 - but in my lifetime i have lived thru exaggerated claims made on behalf of and eventually disappointed by games theory, cybernetics, information theory, structuralism, sociobiology, & a bunch of others. CHAPITRE III. just b/c it acts like it knows what it's doing doesn't necessarily mean it knows what it's doing if it moves like a duck, & quacks like a duck, that doesn't necessarily make it a duck. rule following: literal | semantic content -> causal potency metaphorical | formal procedures [based upon syntax alone:] info-processing: psychological info-processing MS(Y) level of intentionality | mental states/events 'as-if' MS (N) level of neurophysiology/brain CHAPITRE IV. structure & explanation of actions & behavior there is more to types of action than types of physical movements actions have preferred descriptions (determined by the intention in action) ppl know what they'r doing w/o observation the principles by which we identify 'n explain action r themselves part of the actions, ie, they are partly constitutive of actions intentional state [belief, desire, hopes, fears:] content: about sth psychological mode/type conditions of satisfaction: each state itself determines under what conditions it's true, fufilled, carried out, etc. intentional [mental:] causation: internal connection btw cause & effect -> cause both brings about & represents the effect the mind brings about the very state of affairs [effect:] that it has been thinking about [representing:] the mental component causes the physical component and it represents the physical component 3 features of intentional states | intentionality: consist of a content in a certain type determine their conditions of satisfaction, ie, depending on whether the world matches the content of the state sometimes they cause things to happen, by way of intentional causation to bring about a match, ie, to bring about the state of affairs they represent, their own conditions of satisfaction [free will:] prior intentions (premeditated) vs. intentions in action the mental energy that powers action is an energy that works by intentional causation. It is a form of energy whereby the cause, either in the form of desires or intentions, represents the very state of affairs that it causes. back ground of intentionality: skills, habits, abilities, etc.. behavior both contains and is caused by internal mental states CHAPITRE V. 1. for there to be laws of the social sciences [in the sense in which there are strict laws of physics:], there have to be some bridge principles btw the higher and the lower levels, namely btw social/psychological phenomena & physical phenomena 2. social phenomena are defined in terms of the psychological attitudes that ppl take twds them. the concept that names the phenomenon is part of the phenomenon itself. In general, ppl have to think that's what it is. 3. this makes these categories physically open-ended, ie, there are no physical limitations 4. which makes it that there can't be bridging principles btw social & physical features (a necessity in defining strict social laws w/o any exceptions) 5. in addition, bridging the mind and the brain is impossible due to the fact of there being infinite # of possible inputs, which cannot possibly all result in the same neurophysiological output social sciences: theories of pure & applied intentionality w/in historical/contextual frames of reference to an ext environment summation=> the radical discontinuity btw the social & natural sciences derives from the intrinsically mental character of social/psychological phenomena. CHAPITRE VI. Indeterminism [statistical determinance:] is no evidence that there is or could be some mental energy of human freedom that can move molecules in directions that they were not otherwise going to move. Compatibilism - free wil & determinism are perfectly compatible w/ each other. - claims all our actions are perfectly predetermined if not by ext force or psychological compulsion, then thru our inner psychological causes --> reasons for acting - denies the substance of free will while maintaining its verbal shell Question of free will: "Could we have done otherwise, all other conditions remaining the same?" The worrisome form of determinism is more basic and fundamental. Since all of the surface features of the world are entirely caused by and realised in systems of micro-elements, the behavior of micro-elements is sufficient to determine everything that happens. Such a 'bottom up' picture of teh world allows for top-down causation )our minds, eg, can affect our bodies). But top-down causation only works b/c the top level is already caused by and realised in the bottom levels. free will & consciousness passive experiences: "This is happening to me" <-- There are no options built into the experience intentional actions: "I am making this happen." --> I could be doing sth else As long as we accept the bottom-up conception of physical explanation, and it is a conception on which the past three hundred years of science are based, then psychological facts about ourselves, like any other higher level facts, are entirely causally explicable in term of and entirely realised in systems of elements at the fundamental micro-physical elvel. Our conception of physical reality simply does not allow for radical freedom. Evolution has given us a form of experience of voluntary action where the experience of freedom, that is to say, the experience of the sense of alternative possibilities, is built into the very structure of conscious, voluntary, intentional human behavior. For that reason, I believe, neither this discussion nor any other will ever convince us that our behavior is unfree.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ayanna Dozier

    John Searle wrote this book for the Reith Lectures, which are intended to make standard philosophical questions/problems accessible to an "wide" audience, that is anyone willing to follow along and stick with the problem. The problem that Searle attempts to resolve is that of the mind/body dichotomy in philosophy. To get at this, Searle analogies the mind/body problem against the question of whether or not digital computational programs are capable of consciousness. Searle uses "common-sense" to John Searle wrote this book for the Reith Lectures, which are intended to make standard philosophical questions/problems accessible to an "wide" audience, that is anyone willing to follow along and stick with the problem. The problem that Searle attempts to resolve is that of the mind/body dichotomy in philosophy. To get at this, Searle analogies the mind/body problem against the question of whether or not digital computational programs are capable of consciousness. Searle uses "common-sense" to resolve these philosophical conundrums that is to say that there is no gap of the mind/body because the mind is in the body and that unless a system resembles the human brain it is incapable of consciousness. While Searle's conclusions are convincing, his methods are less so. The first half of the book works to deals with the analogy of digital computation and consciousness to get at the mind/body spilt and works quite well, whereas the latter half of the book seeks to provide "answers" to help the social sciences resolve their inquiries of trying to make sense of the human brain and its intentionality. What I mean by this is that Searle attempts to definitively resolve the questioning of how bodies work with his common-sense explanation of "they just work." I was less convinced and amused by this half and lost engagement with the book after chapter three. Additionally, for those who have an awareness of affect studies, critical race studies, and gender and sexuality studies, Searle's conclusions and dismissal of how desire/intentionality operate within the body are best described as lackluster. I do find his analysis on digital computation and consciousness to be intriguing (even if I disagree with his outcome) and would recommend for the first three chapters alone.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Tim Pendry

    Although almost thirty years old, Searle's (relatively) easy to read popular classic of analytical philosophy still stands up as a corrective to the exuberant claims of non-philosophers about the nature of the mind and of the world. The book is the slightly adapted text of six radio lectures for the BBC and, like Merleau-Ponty before him, Searle rose well to the challenge of concision and clarity for an educated lay audience. The book should be seen as a strike back by the Anglo-Saxon analytical t Although almost thirty years old, Searle's (relatively) easy to read popular classic of analytical philosophy still stands up as a corrective to the exuberant claims of non-philosophers about the nature of the mind and of the world. The book is the slightly adapted text of six radio lectures for the BBC and, like Merleau-Ponty before him, Searle rose well to the challenge of concision and clarity for an educated lay audience. The book should be seen as a strike back by the Anglo-Saxon analytical tradition at failures to use terms (such as science) correctly and logically in the enthusiasm to promote the (then) new cognitive sciences. In general, Searle make his case and the book was influential in forcing cognitive scientists and social scientists to stop and start to 'think' about how they thought. Philosophy is now much more integrated into the technological projects surrounding machine intelligence and neuroscience, albeit with sloppy thinking still rife amongst the more excitable transhumanist element. Nevertheless, the text is not a Bible and things move on. Analytical philosophy is a primary tool for removing obfuscations and defining possible meanings but it often comes to a halt in making the world meaningful. Searle himself expresses something of this in his inconclusive approach to the hoary old determinism and free will debate. He successfully (in my view) explains why the equally hoary old mind-body problem was a non-problem but analytical approaches that work so well here seem to fail him on free will which we will come to again towards the end of this review. Nevertheless, his criticisms of assumptions that were then popular about artificial intelligence and the applicability of the term 'scientific' to the social sciences still, broadly, stand up. But there are comments and criticisms to be made, if only that analytical philosophy takes us a long way in removing stupidity and obscurantism from debate but that it can get stuck in its own logic. For example, Searle is very assertive that his claims that artificial intelligence cannot become conscious stand regardless of exponential growth in computing power. His analysis of the difference between the syntactical and the semantic strike me as sensible but his famous Chinese Locked Room thought experiment is not as conclusive as first appears. He describes the actuality of intelligence based on formal processes but what he does not take into account is the emergence of self-reflexion by artificial intelligence that has access to a different but equal range of (sensory) inputs and can evolve into a mode of being based on a determination to exist for itself. Now, before we go too far, this is not to accept the nonsense of much of the singularity brigade who continue to misunderstand what consciousness is (much as Searle pointed out) but it is to suggest that, just as we evolved into consciousness from a material substrate so might a technological invention of ours. Similarly, his rather sharp negative view of the social sciences as science is also unanswerable as it stands but we should not confuse a terminological problem with an actual problem in the world. Writing thirty years ago, Searle was still dealing with the false claims of such analogical and magical thinking as Freudianism which constructed vast edifices and lucrative careers on a bed of sand. Indeed, the twin intellectual absurdities of behaviourism and Freudianism implicitly underpin the very Anglo-Saxon determination of Searle to find a middle way that actually works. Today, we are more critical but we are also in danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water insofar as the social sciences are not credibly scientific but they are still useful. The question becomes now almost a political one - how are they useful and to whom are they useful and a dash of Foucault might help us here alongside our 'analysis'. Perhaps we need a new term for what the social sciences are, based on their probabilistic and contingent nature and (certainly and unlike the hard sciences) they need to be placed under much more aggressive individual and social scrutiny in regard to their claims. The problem area today is something that Searle might not have predicted - the claims of 'hard' neuroscientists to be able (in due course) to provide explanations for default human behaviour. From this comes the theoretical model of all human behaviour being predictable no less than the weather - that is, not in the specifics which prove to be unknowable after only a short period of forward analysis but in the general processes and systems. The danger here is not only 'hubris' but the prediction becoming true not because it is true but because it can be made to be true by intervention. This 'nudge' interventionism which has become fashionable amongst the dimmer sort of centrist politician desperate to control what cannot be controled. Such projects are either doomed to failure because of the chaotic system in which they operate or they will require the type of de-humanising tyrannical interventions that Aldous Huxley feared in order to be (or seem to be) effective. In this respect, the work that Searle has started requires continuation for a new generation of simple minds with funds and careers on the line and weak politicians holding the grant strings. The final area where criticism may be due is in his surprisingly limited analysis of the determinism and free will debate where there is no analytical solution because determinism is logical and yet the actuality of choice is embedded in our experience of the world. Of course, the set of philosophers who have tended to have the most cogent criticism of determinism are the continental existentialists but, hey, this book was written at a time when the analytical and continental schools did not talk to each other. Searle is moving towards categorising the determinism/free will problem as a non-problem as he ably does with the mind-body problem which I characterise (again, in quasi-existentialist terms) as one of consciousness being an emergent property of matter where only matter exists. However, he cannot make the same leap and I suspect that is because determinism is logical but not true and an analytical philosopher cannot accept that something that appears logical (and the assumptions are sound) may not be true - that is, consistently meaningful. The point here is that free will is also an emergent property of consciousness which is an emergent property of matter and that, though matter is determined all things being equal, the arrival of self-reflexion and thought, within constraints, can change the nature of the matter that would otherwise have been predetermined. To say that the subsequent matter was predetermined is logical but not true because it is meaningless in the context of the arrival into the system of an emergent consciousness. Searle offers a useful corrective to the dreamy new age invention of quantum physics as cause for consciousness (though one should retain an open mind) and, since then, as cause for the last ditch defence of platonic mathematical truths. In essence, the quantum elements within classical physics simply cohere into the physical substrate from which we derive. My consequent argument is that, just as indeterminacy is lost as the system organises itself into the material substrate of the world, so indeterminacy re-appears at the higher level with awareness of oneself as having choices, even if these choices are heavily constrained by the nature of matter. We might take the invention of manned flight as an example where it was not determined that man fly but that a will to fly created sets of choices whereby he did fly but was constrained by the determinism of matter as to what was possible and thereby following certain technologically determined paths once the choices were made. The other factor not taken into account in assessing free will is the illusion of the future. The future is always assumed to exist but it only exists as an extrapolation of the unfolding of materiality. In fact, the future is as probabilistic as the social sciences. It probably will happen but it need not exist unlike the past which has unfolded already as a result of the working out of material laws (and some choices) that have been experienced. This, of course, is the problem of time but arguments from cosmology, physics and mathematics (and science fiction) do not trump this philosophical truth that the future only exists when it has happened. This rather puts the kybosh on a lot of ideas about time including those of J. W Dunne which were a last refuge for many spiritualists and other romantics. In the real world, our understanding of scientific rules and processes makes the world thoroughly predictable regardless of this fact that the future does not exist until it has happened but the indeterminacy of consciousness means that the future can also be changed. It is this latter indeterminacy that creates the science fiction hope that the future determined by the working out of what we see around us might be changed by an act of will. Again, in the real world, human power to change the future is limited, suffers from inadequate knowledge of consequences and is often collective (that is, it averages out in the 'wisdom of crowds' or serious change gets 'croweded out' by a default thinking which is barely conscious). We must be clear here. Being human does not intrinsically mean that a human being is capable of self-reflexive choice and so of not being determined. It is the exercise of a capability of being human - self-reflexive choice and the 'weighing up' of intentionalities - that creates freedom. Most people most of the time are determined by their conditions and, of course, most people most of the time may have little choice in their conditions. Free will is thus a possibility but not inherent in being human simply by dint of being an evolved ape. Nevertheless, the fact that indeterminacy is an evolved quality of consciousness in the context of a state of being where the future is only set because of determinacy and not because it exists means that evolved consciousness can change the 'determined' future. This is not an argument for the hysteria surrounding multiverses which is another extreme mathematical invention but it is an argument for accepting that free will and effective determinism within classical physics can co-exist, especially as the free will is extremely limited in scope. Free will can rearrange existing molecules for micro-utilitarian purposes but it cannot change the structure of reality that permits the survival of the organism. In any case, the organism's sphere of influence is tiny and highly localised in space and time. So, there is no free will/determinism problem any more than there is a mind/body problem. The value of this book is the value implicit in the discussion above. It makes you ask questions. Like all the best philosophers, Searle does not assert the truth but gives a view of the truth that keeps open the door to disagreement. In a time when we are surrounded by the rise of dim-witted text-based religious assertion, new age wish-fulfilment flummery and ecstatic claims by 'scientists' who think that science fiction is a true representation of the world, this sort of thinking is invaluable.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ricardo Rodríguez Quintero

    This text is the transcript — with a little extra elaboration — of John Searle's 1984 Reith Lectures , which consist of six self-contained pieces that stand on their own while contributing to a single purpose: to contrast and describe the relationships between the conception we have of ourselves as rational, free, conscious agents and the conception we have of the world as a collection of mindless, meaningless physical particles. To do so, Searle presents his points with outstanding clarity; i This text is the transcript — with a little extra elaboration — of John Searle's 1984 Reith Lectures , which consist of six self-contained pieces that stand on their own while contributing to a single purpose: to contrast and describe the relationships between the conception we have of ourselves as rational, free, conscious agents and the conception we have of the world as a collection of mindless, meaningless physical particles. To do so, Searle presents his points with outstanding clarity; introducing thought experiments — as in Ch. 2 with the now classical Chinese Room argument, to tackle strong AI — and clinical cases to structure in a clear logical progression his premises and conclusions. A must-read for anyone interested in philosophy of mind and/or the big questions it deals with.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Seyed

    This book contains an expanded form of the argument found in "minds brains and programs" (1980) which answers a few of the immediate objections to what is called the Chinese Room argument / thought-experiment. The key take away is that whilst computation is a necessary feature of brains, it is not a sufficient feature of minds. This book contains an expanded form of the argument found in "minds brains and programs" (1980) which answers a few of the immediate objections to what is called the Chinese Room argument / thought-experiment. The key take away is that whilst computation is a necessary feature of brains, it is not a sufficient feature of minds.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Polyglot27

    This is the book that answered all my questions on the brain and mind. It also explained why certain questions cannot be answered and why human behavior could never be predicted with any certainly. It certainly shows that science fiction stories like the Foundation series by Asimov can only remain fantasies.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sam Varney

    A great modern philosopher! John Searle is a man who cuts through much of the theoretical bullshit found in philosophy and the humanities, writing books that are relevant and accessible despite covering complex topics.

  12. 5 out of 5

    jt

    Pathetic.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Chant

    As much as I like Searle, this is (I think) the most distilled Searle's philosophy of mind. Not really something you read if you know Searle's biological naturalism and his reasons for it. As much as I like Searle, this is (I think) the most distilled Searle's philosophy of mind. Not really something you read if you know Searle's biological naturalism and his reasons for it.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Tomris Yucemen

    incredibly clear writing for a philosophy book, very well structured with each idea smoothly flowing into the next. The subject matter was interesting too but I am just really impressed by searle’s consideration for the reader, plus he cracks a few jokes.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy Mifsud

    This was the simplest read on philosophy of mind, & although I may not quite agree with Searle, I think it's a great read & very clear introduction into the topic of minds, brains and science for people who want to be introduced into this area. This was the simplest read on philosophy of mind, & although I may not quite agree with Searle, I think it's a great read & very clear introduction into the topic of minds, brains and science for people who want to be introduced into this area.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Valentine

    This book was too expensive. But I'm glad I bought it anyway. Heard about Searle as a computer science major and a phil major, so I just had to pick up this book. This book was too expensive. But I'm glad I bought it anyway. Heard about Searle as a computer science major and a phil major, so I just had to pick up this book.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Collin

    Philosophy of mind is fun, dumb, hard and important at the same time. It’s like thinking about the nature of aliens or God...

  18. 5 out of 5

    Qingyang

    Searle's sophisticated viewpoint on the controversial subject of consciousness is supported by lucid examples, free of jargon. A short, 5-star book. Searle's sophisticated viewpoint on the controversial subject of consciousness is supported by lucid examples, free of jargon. A short, 5-star book.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Dan's

    It sounds like a pretty good idea, this Turing test. If you can’t tell the difference between a person and a computer when you are talking to them, well, that has to mean there is Artificial Intelligence … doesn’t it? According to Searle the answer to that question is no. And to prove it he came up with his own thought experiment called the Chinese Room – which he describes in this book. You are brought into a glass room and in that glass room there is a pile of Chinese symbols and beside them a It sounds like a pretty good idea, this Turing test. If you can’t tell the difference between a person and a computer when you are talking to them, well, that has to mean there is Artificial Intelligence … doesn’t it? According to Searle the answer to that question is no. And to prove it he came up with his own thought experiment called the Chinese Room – which he describes in this book. You are brought into a glass room and in that glass room there is a pile of Chinese symbols and beside them a series of instructions. The instructions are in English – a language you are fluent in – about what to do with the Chinese symbols – a language you have no knowledge of at all. The instructions say that if someone comes to the window and holds up a sign that has a squiggle, line, squiggle on it you are to locate this sign and then hold up the sign from the pile that is indicated by the instructions. People come to the window and hold up signs and you look through your instructions and hold up the corresponding signs from your pile. What you don’t realise is that the people outside the room are Chinese speakers and their signs says things like, “Do you know where the bathroom is?” and your signs say things like, “Yes, take the first left, you can’t miss it.” Now, the person outside the room would naturally assume you can speak Chinese – but do you? You see, you are doing exactly what the computer in Turing’s test is doing. The person outside the room can have no way of telling the difference between you speaking Chinese and you following a series of non-Chinese instructions. The outputs are exactly the same – but can you say you speak Chinese on the basis of this test? I think the answer has to be no. This is my problem with Searle – he makes so much sense and is so clear and so apparent that it is hard not to just agree with him. And this is true even though some of his conclusions ought to make me feel a bit concerned. For example, he says elsewhere that Materialism is the greatest mistake facing social science today – now, I ought to find that a concerning statement – but he explains his concerns with Materialism so lucidly that it is hard to disagree with him. Searle’s argument is that consciousness requires intention. It doesn’t matter if you do all of the acts, have all the appearance of being conscious, the thing that makes consciousness ‘real consciousness’ is intention. The second half of this book looks at the nature of intention and how actions, in as far as they are actions, need to be ‘intended’. Of course, intentions are not simple things, rather we have clusters of intentions and these are realised (if at all) through the application of our will and a complex interrelationship of our skills and abilities. He has much of interest to say about the nature of free will and whether or not social sciences will ever be ‘proper sciences’ in the sense that physics is a science. He thinks not, but interestingly because the social sciences deal with things that are neither physical nor mental – but somewhere in between – like ‘inflation’ or ‘marriage’. To Searle the mind is a property of the brain, in much the same way that digestion is a property of the stomach. He does not say that it exists separately from the brain, just as digestion does not exist separate from the stomach – but chopping up the stomach is never going to completely explain digestion, and chopping up the brain is never going to completely explain thinking. There is a complex interrelationship between mind and brain and it makes little sense to follow the Cartesian dualism of the mind/body split and try to work out which is physical and which is mental – just as it is equally senseless to follow the strict materialist view in effectively denying the existence of all mental states. The thing I like most about Searle is that he says things like it is pointless trying to deny that we have a subjective consciousness (a first person consciousness, if you will) that feels like we have both intentionality and free will. Any theory that denies we have intentions needs to back up this suggestion with some pretty serious explaining. However, because modern science seems to spend an awful lot of time providing explanations for the world that seem counterintuitive we almost think consciousness needs to be explained in a way that makes no sense too. Ironically, the fact some modern theories seem daft has actually stood in their favour. Like I said, I have a very strong attraction for anyone who can explain complex ideas in simple and engaging ways. I really like people who can come up with clever and new ways of tackling difficult questions and make the answers seem to shine. Sometimes I do worry that I am being blinded by his clarity and the eloquence of his explanations – but then, it is generally better to be blinded by clarity than it is to be dumbfounded by convoluted nonsense. I can think of no better use to put one’s mind to than reading one of Searle’s engaging books. And this is a particularly engaging one.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Yogy TheBear

    I do not totally agree with his conclusion that brains cause minds. It is a too rough and inexact statement. He appears reluctant to accept that mind does cause reaction in the brain, he gets around this by brain causing mind in the first place and so there is no problem if there is the appearance of the inverse. Now I do not deny that brain and mind are connected in some way and they interact. His argument is something on the lines of: a certain arrangement of molecules generate something of me I do not totally agree with his conclusion that brains cause minds. It is a too rough and inexact statement. He appears reluctant to accept that mind does cause reaction in the brain, he gets around this by brain causing mind in the first place and so there is no problem if there is the appearance of the inverse. Now I do not deny that brain and mind are connected in some way and they interact. His argument is something on the lines of: a certain arrangement of molecules generate something of metaphysical proprieties (mind), that can not be described by standard cause effect models. Yet mind is still inherently not metaphysical because it is bound to the arrangement of the atoms and exerts cause - effect relation twords the atoms. Why do people reject metaphysical entities as a soul...? It revolves a lot of problems described in the last 3 chapters !? I guess the existence of something as a soul brings forth a theological discussion.. My prime interest in reading this was actualy the arguments against AI. You do not need brain causes mind to attack AI and the author uses other tools also.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Chuck O'Connor

    This slim transcript of Searle's Reith lectures reads like a really smart person speaking to you about a subject they hold dear but you might not grasp. Still, it made me rethink how I think about what I think and made me conscious of my own mind. It also piqued my interest in the philosophy of mind and why consciousness is so mysterious. This slim transcript of Searle's Reith lectures reads like a really smart person speaking to you about a subject they hold dear but you might not grasp. Still, it made me rethink how I think about what I think and made me conscious of my own mind. It also piqued my interest in the philosophy of mind and why consciousness is so mysterious.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Bob Miller

    Searle is clear and straightforward as usual. He definitely knows how to get under the skin of the AI crowd.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ivi

    3,4*

  24. 5 out of 5

    Cliff Hays

    This book is worth it for chapter 2 alone, where the author presents his Chinese Room thought-experiment. This book is worth it for chapter 2 alone, where the author presents his Chinese Room thought-experiment.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    Very clear and very powerful. I think his criticisms of contemporary philosophy of mind hit the mark with astounding clarity.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Massimo

  27. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

  28. 4 out of 5

    Brad Thompson

  29. 5 out of 5

    Dbelford

  30. 5 out of 5

    Christina

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