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The Emperor's New Mind Paperback – January 1, 1991

3.8 out of 5 stars 104 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Some love it, some hate it, but The Emperor's New Mind, physicist Roger Penrose's 1989 treatise attacking the foundations of strong artificial intelligence, is crucial for anyone interested in the history of thinking about AI and consciousness. Part survey of modern physics, part exploration of the philosophy of mind, the book is not for casual readers--though it's not overly technical, it rarely pauses to let the reader catch a breath. The overview of relativity and quantum theory, written by a master, is priceless and uncontroversial. The exploration of consciousness and AI, though, is generally considered as resting on shakier ground.

Penrose claims that there is an intimate, perhaps unknowable relation between quantum effects and our thinking, and ultimately derives his anti-AI stance from his proposition that some, if not all, of our thinking is non-algorithmic. Of course, these days we believe that there are other avenues to AI than traditional algorithmic programming; while he has been accused of setting up straw robots to knock down, this accusation is unfair. Little was then known about the power of neural networks and behavior-based robotics to simulate (and, some would say, produce) intelligent problem-solving behavior. Whether these tools will lead to strong AI is ultimately a question of belief, not proof, and The Emperor's New Mind offers powerful arguments useful to believer and nonbeliever alike. --Rob Lightner

From Publishers Weekly

A physicist who believes that some aspects of the human mind will never be duplicated by artificial intelligence here supports his view with material drawn from quantum mechanics, brain structure and other theories. 75,000 first printing.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (January 1, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140145346
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140145342
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (104 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #440,937 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Wesley L. Janssen VINE VOICE on December 18, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Roger Penrose, "one of the world's most knowledgeable and creative mathematical physicists," presents in his 1989 Emperor's New Mind one of the most intriguing and substantive popularizations of mathematical logic and physical theory that has ever been published. As a reader of many books written by scientists, I will say that few compare with this one. Penrose wrestles with what he sees as some of science's most inadequate or poorly developed (although popularly accepted) ideas. As certain physical theories are found wanting, his grapplings extend to some of the deepest questions of metaphysics. Of the deepest questions, Penrose says, "To ask for definitive answers to such grandiose questions would, of course, be a tall order. Such answers I cannot provide; nor can anyone else, though some may try to impress us with their guesses." While he speaks respectfully of individuals with whom he has certain differences of opinion, the "some" in that statement might be taken to be Hawking, Dawkins, Dennett, to suggest a few. The author here tends toward a more humble and questioning approach. Penrose's puzzlings are complex, creative, and speculative, and even his admirers might easily misrepresent certain of his opinions and conjectures. A case in point may be the fact that he finds cosmic inflation theories to have less explanatory power than others claim for them -- this doesn't mean he necessarily rejects inflation, rather he doubts claims that inflation significantly helps explain the specialness of the early universe. Positivists may be disposed to discount the problem but there appears to be good reason for Penrose's skepticism. However this is not treated in this volume.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you could only use one word to describe this book, "Exhausting" would certainly be it. While the basic premise is that consciousness cannot be the product of complex algorithms, Penrose spends the vast majority of the text thoroughly exploring every irrelevant aspect of physics and every nuanced, extraneous detail of our current understanding of the nature of the universe, while attempting to accomplish the task of presenting the material in a way that the average Joe can understand (Hint: if your text contains the phrase, "Here, theta is the angle which the pair of points z and w subtend at the origin in the Argand plane" then you have failed).

After extensively winding his way through everything from Turing machines, the big bang, general relativity, special relativity, complex numbers, natural numbers, irrational numbers, Fractals and the Mandelbrot set, Euclidean geometry, Fermat's last theorem, Gödel's theorem, recursively enumerable sets, non-recursive mathematics, Hamiltonian space, periodic tiling, quantum mechanics, P and NP completeness, the two-slit experiment, quantum spin, Riemann spheres, Lobachevskian space, the EPR paradox, Newton's laws of motion, Schrodinger's equations, quantum field theory, Galilean space-time, entropy, black holes, vector mathematics and vector fields, cosmology, time symmetry/asymmetry, Maxwell's electromagnetic theory, quantum gravity, Lorentz equations of motion, Minkowskian space time, Poincare motion, the tidal effect and many, many, many other subjects, the author finally spends a mere two chapters on the main topic.
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Format: Paperback
I was compelled to write as I came by on the way to buying Dr. Penrose's more recent book ("Road to Reality") and was appalled that Amazon features 2 out of 3 negative views on the first page, including one which dismisses the "Emperor's new mind" as "rubbish". Surely the book is controversial in certain quarters, but the vehemence of much of the criticism can only make me wonder why some people are so defensive about it.

I have to admit I have not reread this book since my original reading around 1990, so take my remarks at some discount on that basis. But I will tell you that this book remains influential in my choice of what I read and how I evaluate things even to this day. It has indeed changed my life.

Dr. Penrose's premise is that a computer simulation of a brain will not achieve the equivalent of human consciousness. I don't wish to enter the fray of arguing points. Dr. Penrose is a mathematical and scientific genius, a deep thinker on the nature of reality, and he can do his own counterpoint. Read this book with an open mind, and even if you disagree with some of his arguments, you will take much away with you.

Here's my take. "Consciousness" is pretty central to the whole enterprise of scientific endeavor, as well as how each of us understands our place in the world. Consciousness, as modeled by psychological and AI researchers, has a lot to say about the biological/physical systems that underpin what is happening in our heads, but one has to wonder about claims that consciousness is now completely understood. To this end, Dr. Penrose takes us on a fascinating journey to the frontiers of scientific knowledge, at scales both large and small. This is entirely relevant to the central theme.
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