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Goodbye, Descartes: The End of Logic and the Search for a New Cosmology of the Mind Paperback – February, 1998

ISBN-13: 978-0471251866 ISBN-10: 0471251860

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley (February 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471251860
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471251866
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #454,895 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In a wide-ranging exploration of the limits of scientific and mathematical thought, Devlin (Mathematics: The Science of Patterns), a mathematician and senior researcher at Stanford University's Center for the Study of Language and Communication, is certain to attract attention?and controversy?with his claim that scientific logic, as exemplified by the philosophy of Descartes, will never enable us to understand the human mind. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is bound to fail, he asserts, for its goal of machine intelligence is an impossible one. Furthermore, he argues, Noam Chomsky's field of Cartesian linguistics is similarly flawed. Though the structure of a human language, like a computer language, can be analyzed in terms of syntactic rules, understanding human communication requires "four key features... that were explicitly ignored in Chomsky's logic-inspired analysis of language: meaning, context, cultural knowledge, [and] the structure of conversation." Given his perceived failure of AI and Chomsky's linguistics, Devlin asks, "what are the possibilities of a science of mind and language, and what kind of a theory should we be looking for?" The answer, he claims, is a "soft mathematics" that does not yet exist but will emerge as an established branch of the field. Readers must grapple with the text and be prepared to argue with the author with Talmudic fervor. AI experts will dispute Devlin's definition of their field and its objectives. Scientists or mathematicians will fill the margins with questions and comments. In the end, whether or not readers have joined Devlin in saying, "Goodbye, Descartes," they will have experienced a fascinating journey to the edges of logical thinking and beyond.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

After years of effort to create a computer that can really think, many workers in the field of artificial intelligence are now beginning to concede it may be impossible. Mathematician and science writer Devlin believes that this is because the computer is a logic machine, and rational thought and human communication involve mental processes that go beyond logic. To convince us, he takes us on a tour of traditional logic, mathematical logic, modern linguistics, congitive science, and theories of communication and information. He concludes with a plea for the development of a new branch of mathematics?soft mathematics?designed to deal with those areas of science that do not fit the traditional paradigm of the hard sciences. An excellent book that should be read by everyone who has ever wondered how we communicate with one another but find it so frustrating to interact with computers.?Harold D. Shane, Baruch Coll., CUNY
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Dr. Keith Devlin is a mathematician at Stanford University in California. He is a co-founder and Executive Director of the university's H-STAR institute, a co-founder of the Stanford Media X research network, and a Senior Researcher at CSLI. He has written 31 books and over 80 published research articles. His books have been awarded the Pythagoras Prize and the Peano Prize, and his writing has earned him the Carl Sagan Award, and the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics Communications Award. In 2003, he was recognized by the California State Assembly for his "innovative work and longtime service in the field of mathematics and its relation to logic and linguistics." He is "the Math Guy" on National Public Radio. (Archived at http://www.stanford.edu/~kdevlin/MathGuy.html.)

He is a World Economic Forum Fellow and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His current research is focused on the use of different media to teach and communicate mathematics to diverse audiences. He also works on the design of information/reasoning systems for intelligence analysis. Other research interests include: theory of information, models of reasoning, applications of mathematical techniques in the study of communication, and mathematical cognition.

He writes a monthly column for the Mathematical Association of America, "Devlin's Angle": http://www.maa.org/devlin/devangle.html

Customer Reviews

'Modus ponens' cannot be its original Greek name, for it is Latin.
Giovanni Mion
This book is a very special one, due the courage to defy traditional logic and to present recent developments in linguistic science.
Leonardo
THis is a research agenda, but too vague to be of much use in my opinion.
Robert J. Crawford

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Charles Ashbacher HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 1, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The astonishing thing about human communication is not that it sometimes fails but that failure is so rare. Given the complexities of context, facial expressions, tone, body movements, and grammar, all going in at least two directions, it is truly incredible that it works so well. As the author points out by example, he can write a sentence that no one else has ever created before, and yet there is no difficulty in determining what he means. Understanding human language is a situation where our obviously finite brains are capable of resolving an infinite number of scenarios. The examples given in this book make you appreciate just how much "computing" power there is in the human brain.
Many of the theories regarding the instinctive understanding of human language, independent of word order, are considered and often questioned. The gross shortcomings of Artificial Intelligence (AI) are also raised and used to demonstrate that there is now no effective model for how humans process data and make "rational" decisions. Despite all the original promise and hype, AI has been used to solve few problems and even some of the reported successes are clearly very weak when thoroughly examined. Therefore, the argument throughout the book is that there needs to be a new approach to the problems of cognition
The arguments are presented in a thoughtful, detailed, and understandable manner. There are times when the arguments do get technical, but they are few and can be skipped without disrupting the flow of the material. At the end, Devlin also argues for a radical rethinking of the last three thousand years of traditional reasoning that dates back to the Greek origins of logic. He uses the phrase "soft mathematics" to describe what he believes the answer to be.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 29, 1997
Format: Hardcover
The previous reader makes the same error with the monty Hall Problem as do many. New Scientist has been running a web discussion on this problem in its "biteback" section ([...]
after a strongly positive review of "Goodbye Descartes" brought a small deluge of letters from readers who, like the previous reader, had misunderstood not only the correct Monty Hall solution given in the book, but along with it most of the book's argument.
Wise readers will decide for themselves who is "right" on this issue.
--Keith Devlin
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By James L. Gambrell on November 1, 2006
Format: Paperback
Some of the negative reviews of this book have good points. Devlin is less than scholarly, and (big surprise) he does not offer some kind of fully developed logic of the mind at the end. But jebus, what did you expect?

This is a great book, but you have to understand the style it is written in. It is written in an intellectual-fun style, attempting to provide a good, thought-provoking read. It does not provide iron-clad argumentation nor does it provide scholarly historical coverage. What it does provide is an easy to read whirlwind tour of the history of logic and linguistics, as well as hundreds of examples of situations where the logical approach to studying the mind has run into roadblocks.

I think it is a great book and well worth the read, especially for someone new to either logic or linguistics.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By M. Ziolkowski on June 11, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Negative reviews of this book "blame the messenger" -- Devlin does an extraordinary job of explaining the state of the art for his chosen topic, yet he is taken to task for not giving the problems he describes a nice, tidy, Hollywood ending. He is being honest. Such solutions don't exist.

His topic is an account of why artificial intelligence's assumptions have led to failure delivering the innovations of machinery seen in the Jetsons, innovations which seemed not all that far-fetched for the field in the intellectual "bubble" during its advent in the post-WWII era. Understanding the failure will touch on formal logic, mathematics, linguistics, behavioral decision theory (at the end of the book) and it's clearly unreasonable to expect Devlin will juggle them all judiciously. Trained as a linguist myself (with cursory knowledge in these other fields), I could take exception with simplifying assumptions / infelicities in his account of language's role, but such would be missing the forest for the trees.

More generally though, Devlin's critics are blaming the author for not ultimately curing for cancer -- assuming that were his topic -- in an analogous book whose aim is to illustrate why phrenology might be a wrong-headed place to look for a cure in the first place.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Robert J. Crawford on September 6, 2004
Format: Paperback
For more than 2000 years, philosophers and scientists have attempted to use symbolic logic to investigate the structure of language and, by extension, the human mind. Our speech and thought processes, they believe, operate according to underlying rules that are rigorously mathematical. Devlin argues that this approach is a dead end and that we should pursue new avenues of research.

Much of the book is a critique of symbolic logic. Invented by Aristotle, it was merged with algebra and became a branch of mathematics and its most recent applications have been in artificial intelligence (AI) as well as the liguistic of Chomsky. What these disciplines have in common - what is "cartesian" about them - is their attempt to "captur[e] patterns of reasoning...in a pure fashion, isolated from context" and even meaning. In this view, computers are the perfect logic machines, processing info by manipulating symbols without understanding what they are doing.

The failure of AI to meet its original goals demonstrates, in Devlin's view, what is wrong with this approach. AI (or an "expert system") lacks common sense, whatever its daignostic capabilities, and cannot make judgments when unforseen or ambiguous situations arise. Consequently, AI cannot operate outside extraordinarily narriow confines and hence are unreliable in many applications. Computers have also failed to produce a human-like language. This is proof, Devlin says, that the human mind is more than a logic machine ("Smart meat" as the WIred crowd might argue) that acts according to rigid subsystems of logical rules: context and meaning matter. These arguments are convincing and cogently argued.

Unfortunately, Devlin's arguments of where to go from there are far weaker than his analyses of past failures.
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