The Mystery of Consciousness
John R. Searle
As a compact collection of reviews masquerading as essays, The Mystery of Consciousness is Searle’s answer to boiling down the various (and sometimes obfuscating) theories in modern neurobiology to succinct and clear ideas. Primarily, the author has focused on the giants in the field: Francis Crick, Gerald Edelman, Roger Penrose, Daniel Dennett, David Chalmers, and Israel Rosenfield.
I’ve studied the theories put forth by these scientists but haven’t read their books concerning the topic (except for Francis Crick’s The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul) so I have very little basis to critique on except for Searle’s lucid writing. His assessment of Crick, however, was much in line with mine when I read The Astonishing Hypothesis–an excellent primer on the biological basis on perception, but quite weak on the philosophy.
One interesting facet about this book are the little discussions the author has with some of the originators of various theories. For instance, Searle gets into a bit of a spat with Dennett who claims that human consciousness is only a collection of memes and that we are little more than zombies mechanically doing things and saying things as the situation warrants and not because we actually mean it.
On the other extreme of the spectrum is Chalmers who supports panpsychism, i.e. that consciousness is everywhere. That means that not only you and I have consciousness, but so does the dog. And the thermostat. And the rocks. And the entire Milky Way. Searle rightly calls this view absurd–if it is so, then consciousness should be in the heart as well as the brain, but we know that isn’t true. As a defense, Chalmers manages to trip over his feet by denying that he ever said that.
It’s a good compendium of the present theories about consciousness. I only wish I had read the rest of the books first.
* * *
- Kiss:: Lips
- Nothing:: Much
- Reach:: Up
- Late:: Owl
- Stump:: The Genius
- Dreams:: Weird
- LOL:: Lord oh Lord (this always comes to mind first for some reason–maybe because I don’t like this particular acronym–instead of “laughing out loud”)
- Ornament:: Trinket
- Neck:: Wring
- Guitar:: String