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Shadows of the Mind: A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness [Paperback]

Roger Penrose
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)

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Book Description

August 22, 1996 0195106466 978-0195106466 Reprint
A New York Times bestseller when it appeared in 1989, Roger Penrose's The Emperor's New Mind was universally hailed as a marvelous survey of modern physics as well as a brilliant reflection on the human mind, offering a new perspective on the scientific landscape and a visionary glimpse of the possible future of science. Now, in Shadows of the Mind, Penrose offers another exhilarating look at modern science as he mounts an even more powerful attack on artificial intelligence. But perhaps more important, in this volume he points the way to a new science, one that may eventually explain the physical basis of the human mind.
Penrose contends that some aspects of the human mind lie beyond computation. This is not a religious argument (that the mind is something other than physical) nor is it based on the brain's vast complexity (the weather is immensely complex, says Penrose, but it is still a computable thing, at least in theory). Instead, he provides powerful arguments to support his conclusion that there is something in the conscious activity of the brain that transcends computation--and will find no explanation in terms of present-day science. To illuminate what he believes this "something" might be, and to suggest where a new physics must proceed so that we may understand it, Penrose cuts a wide swathe through modern science, providing penetrating looks at everything from Turing machines (computers programmed from artificial intelligence) to the implications of Godel's theorem maintaining that conscious thinking must indeed involve ingredients that cannot adequately be stimulated by mere computation. Of particular interest is Penrose's extensive examination of quantum mechanics, which introduces some new ideas that differ markedly from those advanced in The Emperor's New Mind, especially concerning the mysterious interface where classical and quantum physics meet. But perhaps the most interesting wrinkle in Shadows of the Mind is Penrose's excursion into microbiology, where he examines cytoskeletons and microtubules, minute substructures lying deep within the brain's neurons. (He argues that microtubules--not neurons--may indeed be the basic units of the brain, which, if nothing else, would dramatically increase the brain's computational power.) Furthermore, he contends that in consciousness some kind of global quantum state must take place across large areas of the brain, and that it within microtubules that these collective quantum effects are most likely to reside.
For physics to accommodate something that is as foreign to our current physical picture as is the phenomenon of consciousness, we must expect a profound change--one that alters the very underpinnings of our philosophical viewpoint as to the nature of reality. Shadows of the Mind provides an illuminating look at where these profound changes may take place and what our future understanding of the world may be.

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

This book asserts that human consciousness is not necessarily intelligible in terms of computational models. The brain's conscious activity essentially transcends the forms or possibilities of computation. Penrose (mathematics, Oxford) illustrates his thesis via mathematical logic, including detailed discussions of Godel's proposition of incompleteness, Turing's machines and computabilities, quantum mechanics, and microbiology. Eventually, Penrose argues that artificial intelligence and computer-controlled expert systems are capable of assisting local human expertise but will not be able to replace such expertise. Expanding on some of the ideas and concepts proposed in his controversial book, The Emperor's New Mind (Oxford Univ. Pr., 1989), Penrose challenges others to reconsider traditional concepts. Some familiarity with mathematical logic or processes will facilitate one's appreciation of this book. Recommended for scholars, specialists, and informed lay readers.
Donald G. Frank, Harvard Univ., Cambridge, Mass.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

A leading critic of artificial intelligence research returns to the attack, attempting to lay the groundwork for an analysis of the true nature of intelligence. Building on his arguments in The Emperor's New Mind (not reviewed), Penrose (Mathematics/Oxford) begins by refuting the assertion that true intelligence can be attained--or even adequately simulated--by the strictly computational means to which current computers are ultimately limited. Much of his argument depends closely on the application of G”del's Undecidability Theorem to Turing machines--deep waters for laypeople, although the fundamentals of his argument are accessible to readers without sophisticated mathematical training. Having disposed of the central tenets of current AI research, Penrose then turns to an even more fundamental question: the actual foundations in modern physics (i.e., relativity and quantum theory) of the phenomenon of consciousness. Here much of his summary depends on fairly complex mathematical reasoning, although the key points are summarized for the general reader who has been willing to follow him so far. Penrose feels that a new physical synthesis, reconciling the paradoxes of quantum theory and bringing them into harmony with Einstein's gravitational theories, is ultimately necessary to explain the noncomputational elements of consciousness and intelligence. He speculates on the possible role of cellular structures called microtubules in creating a quantum phenomenon on a macroscopic scale within the brain, but grants that more research is needed to establish any connection between physical and mental phenomena. His conclusion steps back to a philosophical overview of the subject, paying homage to Plato, among others. A challenging examination of a central problem of modern philosophy, with no final answers but plenty of food for thought. (76 line drawings) (First printing of 50,000; $50,000 ad/promo) -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (August 22, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195106466
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195106466
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #677,243 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars General comments December 26, 1999
This book is a significant improvement on Penrose's previous writing of similar scope, "The Emperor's New Mind", especially that he has more specific ideas on the actual biological manifestations of the noncomputational processes he seeks as basis for consciousness. Even if one does not agree with his arguments, there is a great amount of information on physics and so on, written in a style that makes the book a pleasure to read. A previous review mentioned that many have opposed the logical arguments from the first part of the book. Penrose, however, has replied quite well to many criticisms (see PSYCHE, an electronic journal on consciousness), and I think it is premature to pass final judgement. For an alternative, not necessarily incompatible, view of consciousness I highly recommend "The Feeling of What Happens" by the distinguished neurologist Antonio R. Damasio (or at least check out his article "How the Brain Creates the Mind" in Scientific American, December 1999).
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No other book tackles this subject so clearly July 10, 2008
By avarma
Just opening this book to a random page and reading that page - sets one's mind on fire.

The basic thread running throughtout the book is that of 'what is computable and what is not'. The process of 'Understanding' as humans know it - Penrose argues - is NON-COMPUTABLE. He provides brilliant examples of how computers can 'solve' any problem - without 'understanding' what they are solving (e.g. DeepThought and the simple chess move which stumped it).

This theme in itself would make this a worthwhile read. However - this book offers further gems from Quantum Physics - with perhaps the simplest and best explanation of lesser known quantum paradoxes such as the 'delayed choice' experiments. Godel's theorem is also dealt with lucidly.

Few authors can tackle the issue of 'mind and conciousness' without stepping into some mystical/unscientific goo. Penrose stays scientific - and works from facts and well known experiments.

I do not know of any other book that tackles this subject so clearly - and in such an exciting fashion. From my perspective - this clearly deserves 5 stars.
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41 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A work with far reaching implications May 22, 2000
By A Customer
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Between the beautifully written prologue and epilogue, this book approaches a range of topics in modern physics in a unique and readable way. Through a continuation of some earlier work, Penrose furthers an argument for brain function and conciousness that many in the artificial intelligence field will not appreciate. He presents his case that the human mind will never be simulated with digital a computer, no matter how complex. But that is not his main focus of this book.
Even more facinating are his calculations which indicate how mathematically unique our existence is under the 2nd law of thermodynamics. To me, it's ultimately ironic that the physical principal which orders our universe and makes intelligent life possible (the 2nd law), is the result of an unimaginably improbable set of initial conditions. Although Penrose never invokes the concept of a creator or supreme being, in my mind, this poses an interesting challenge to those in the scientific community who claim our universe is simply the result of random particle collisions over a long period of time.
If we combine the concepts of similar structures scaling across space and time (tensegrity and fractals), with Penrose's ideas that consciousness may be associated with quantum gravity interactions in microtubules (present in all living cells), perhaps there is far more mystery and beauty to this existence than some would now believe...
This book was satisfying and throught provoking, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the mysteries of the very large and the very small.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Deep Debate on Mind Machine Problem September 27, 2010
Shadows of the Mind is undoubtedly a less populist book than its predecessor "The Emperor's New Mind". It is also significantly more technical in places than the predecessor. Its purpose is to extend the Godel based arguments used in ENM in several directions. Firstly to attempt to address various criticisms of the central argument of the previous book and then to develop some new ones. Also there is a discussion of the application to Robotics. An example of this sort of discussion is whether any capability of a Robot to learn would undo any of the Robot restrictions deduced in his basic argument. After all learning (human or robotic) will imply going beyond previous restrictions and being aware of new facts.

So there is a subtle argument needed to continue to show that despite this, humans will come out on top. If you are interested in this kind of subtlety after reading ENM then this is the book for you.

In effect Penrose is right at the heart of the Mind-Machine debate in this book. I give an overview of this debate as follows:

We need to find a scientific theory of the Mind. So we can examine what kind of cognitive or thinking device it might be, recognising that it also thinks about Mathematics. For that we need a model of cognition sufficiently general: the Turing Machine model is available and generally considered to be that model - there are no obvious rivals. So one can focus on whether the Turing Machine model could really be a model for the Human Mathematical Mind. If the answer is "yes" we would conclude also: Robots could have Minds.

Penrose draws the conclusion about mathematical reasoning that:

G: "Human mathematicians are not using a knowably sound algorithm in order to ascertain mathematical truth".
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Along with Stuart Hameroff
Along with Stuart Hameroff this brings up some of the most interesting and exciting points of view on how deep into the mind and the quantum consciousness goes.
Published 1 month ago by W. Jamison
5.0 out of 5 stars Demanding!
This is not an easy book to read or to follow. Still, it's required reading for someone like me who is interested in the Penrose-Hameroff theory of consciousness. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Abbot of Acorn Abbey
5.0 out of 5 stars A study of the physics of the human mind should begin here
Thought provoking book. Anyone interested in that line where physics meets consciousness should make this a must read. Roger Penrose brings credibility to the subject.
Published 9 months ago by Doug Durdin
4.0 out of 5 stars Lifeless Logic
Convincing argument that the mind is not a Turing Machine and that's about it. All living things, especially plants, and the cells they are made of have evolved highly complex... Read more
Published 12 months ago by George Wittenberg
Sir Roger Penrose (born 1931), is an English mathematical physicist and philosopher, as well as Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford, and Emeritus Fellow... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Steven H. Propp
Sir Roger Penrose (born 1931), is an English mathematical physicist and philosopher, as well as Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford, and Emeritus Fellow... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Steven H. Propp
4.0 out of 5 stars A difficult but fascinating read
Shadows of The Mind by Sir Roger Penrose is a difficult read. It is not for everybody. It requires a strong background in mathematics and the physical sciences. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Big Al
3.0 out of 5 stars Penrose's Ambush
This is a dense book and Penrose is nothing but fair on the surface. It is only in reading to the end that one realizes the Platonic ambush lurking there. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Michael Andrews
5.0 out of 5 stars MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION
Published 22 months ago by MAC-WEAR
5.0 out of 5 stars Review for "Shadows of the mind"
The book is almost new,I got it much earlier than expected,description was very accurate. The book is actually what I am interested now and would like to investigate in my life.
Published on July 9, 2012 by Tadas
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