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Minds, Brains and Science (1984 Reith Lectures) 1st Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674576339
ISBN-10: 0674576330
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Editorial Reviews


Wittgenstein once remarked that a philosopher who doesn't engage in public debate is like a boxer who never enters the ring. By this standard, John Searle is a true prizefighter. In recent years he has taken on Noam Chomsky, the champion of modern linguistics; Jacques Derrida, the heavyweight of post structuralism; and endeavored to deal a knock-out blow to the pretensions of artificial intelligentsia. (Trevor Pateman Times Higher Education Supplement)

John Searle's six Reith lectures--brief talks given over the BBC--are popular philosophy in the best sense: clear and lively without loss of rigor, and on problems of wide appeal. Searle proposes answers to three related questions: the relation between mind and brain; whether computers can think (they cannot); and why, compared with the natural sciences, the social sciences have taught us so little. On the second two issues he is brilliant...Searle makes a resounding contribution to current debates. (Virginia Quarterly)

In print Professor Searle's lectures retain the same punchy and engaging style as they had on the air. (David Papineau Times Literary Supplement)

Searle's six brief chapters are models of straightforward, vigorous, non-technical argument...All of this heady and provocative stuff makes Searle's book an exciting read. (Stephen P. Stich Philosophical Review)

Searle's book is an admirably clear and vigorous exposition of his views on a connected set of philosophical issues of importance and timeliness. (John Perry)

This book is aggressive, zealous, and acute. Searle's manner is that of a plain man in possession of plain truths that no one can reject if they are plainly enough stated. I cannot think of another book quite like it. (Arthur Danto)

About the Author

John Searle is Slusser Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. His most recent publications include Mind: A Brief Introduction (2004), Consciousness and Language (2002) and Rationality in Action (2001, 2003).

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Product Details

  • Series: 1984 Reith Lectures (Book 1984)
  • Paperback: 107 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; 1st edition (1984)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674576330
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674576339
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.3 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #77,017 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By magellan HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on June 24, 2002
Format: Paperback
Searle is an interesting philosopher for me to read, because I was trained in neurobiology, and Searle is a philosopher who thinks like a neurobiologist. On the other hand, I am a neurobiologist who thinks like a philosopher.
Although the book discusses several classical problems such as the problem of freedom and free will, the mind-body problem, right and wrong, etc., for me the two most interesting chapters were the one on the mind-body problem, and the one on cognitive psychology.
Here Searle proposes a thorough-going biological and physical explanation that, as a neurobiolgist, I've always liked myself.
You really need to read these two chapters to understand all the details, of course, but I'll briefly summarize his idea, and you can decide if it makes sense to you.
Basically, Searle says there really is no mind-body problem. This dichotomy occured because philosophy completely misunderstood the entire issue. There is no mind-body problem, because the mind depends on the brain, and on the neural workings of the brain, and there is no reason even to say that consciousness itself is separate from the brain itself.
Searle points out that we explain the properties of normal matter, such as a steel ball, which has mass, weight, is impenetrable, is magnetic, and so on, by reference to its atomic and molecular properties. There is no reason to posit any intevening layer of "rules" or theory.
It's the same with the mind-body problem. Mind depends on neurons. All our behavior depends on neurons. There is no reason to posit this intermediate entity of consciousness or of mind which is separate from the underlying biology.
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Dealing with some of the problems in philosophy that persist, even in our "post-modern" times, this book by John Searle of the U.C. at Berkely provides a quick, easily read survey of some of the issues about minds, bodies and artificial intelligence that are of special relevance today. Searle is especially keen to restore a commonsense view of things and so his philosophy seems particularly down-to-earth with regard to some of the knottier problems.

His notion that consciousness (the stuff of minds) is to brains as digestion is to the stomach (a function of it) and that there are various orders of explanation that can be invoked for the same phenomenon go a long way toward enabling those who are stuck in the mind-body conundrum to get beyond it. In some ways he offers an updating of Wittgenstein who, similarly, offered a way of getting beyond such "problems" though Wittgenstein reduced it all to a matter of how we talk while Searle wants to say that this only answers the question in part. Unlike Wittgenstein, who dismissed the idea of theoretical explanations superceding ordinary language, Searle wants to reaffirm the importance of such explanations, and to offer a way to develop them. In many ways his proposals make quite a bit of sense.

However, I remain struck by his argument against the possibility of what he terms the claims of "strong artificial intelligence" proponents. He describes this view (page 28) as "saying that the mind is to the brain as the program is to the computer hardware" and elaborates by noting that "on this view, any physical system . . . that had the right program with the right inputs and outputs would have a mind in exactly the same sense that you and I have minds.
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Format: Paperback
How can we reconcile our perspective as "conscious, free, mindful, rational" creatures in an impersonal universe composed entirely of "mindless, meaningless" physical particles? How, indeed, can we suppose that these ineffable mental states which compose consiousness can affect material things and yet elude physical description? It's easy enough to imagine a meaningless universe of particle soup. But adding consiousness to the mix often seems like the dreaded "nomological dangler" - what Ockham's Razor attempts to sever from a complicated theory.
John Searle attempts to solve these questions and more in this intruiging book for the non-technician such as myself. I found his ideas concerning the consciousness problem intriguing, lucid and very well formulated. These constituted the first lecture and helped him take on computer-affectionate behaviorists and cognitive scientists in the second and third.
In the fourth and fifth lectures, Searle reflects on the nature of action and the difficulties inherent in the social sciences. These build up to his last lecture where he confronts the freedom of will problem. Unfortunately, he makes this problem devastatingly clear without presenting a solution to my satisfaction. The nature of action forces one to believe that we are not walking somnabulists or marionettes. But the physical sciences haunts us yet with the prospect of determinism (or indeterminism, which is equally devastating for free will). The author ends the lecture with a ponderous question mark. At least he's honest!
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