This era is at once the most exciting and the most frustrating for the study of consciousness in my intellectual lifetime: exciting because consciousness has again become respectable, indeed almost central, as a subject of investigation in philosophy, cognitive science, and even neuroscience; frustrating because the whole subject is still plagued with mistakes and errors I thought had long been exposed.
This excitement - and some of the mistakes - are exemplified by the works discussed in this book, which is based on a series of articles that I published in the New York Review of Books between 1995 and 1997. The intervening time, and the larger scope of the book, have allowed me to expand and revise some of the original essays and to try to unify the entire discussion.
from the Preface
Searle's book consists of an introductory and concluding chapter, laying out his own views of the consciousness problem and how to approach it, and an intervening set of chapters in which Searle comments on and criticizes the approaches of others (Crick, Edelman, Penrose, Dennet, Chalmers, Rosenfeld) as represented in recent books by each. The Mystery of Consciousness was used to begin a discussion of consciousness as an area of ongoing research in the Senior Seminar in Neural and Behavioral Sciences during spring semester, 1999. The following are comments on the book by participants in that seminar, with those on the first half of the book appearing first, and comments on the second half following.
Name: A. Forray
Subject: Response Ch. 1-4
Date: Sat Jan 30 15:39:27 EST 1999
In the first chapter, I had mixed opinions about Searle's interpretation of consciousness. I agree with his ideas that mind and body are not two different entities, that consciousness is an emergent property of the brain, and that consciousness is a series of qualitative states. I found his denial of "brain processes as causes and consciousness as effects" and his redefinition of causation (non-event causation) so that brain gives way to consciousness, were separated by a very thin line. Searle's view is relative, a matter of semantics. I disagree with his view further in his explanation of why brain and consciousness do not have a cause and effect relationship. He denies the cause and effect idea because he claims it give the brain and consciousness duality, which he tried to eliminate early on (and rightly so), but to me this distinction is a matter of logistics. In refusing to see brain and consciousness in a traditional casual manner, he sets himself up for contradiction. In chapter two he claimed that how neurons operate is the "entire casual basis of our conscious life."
Chapter two was a very interesting chapter, it brought up Crick's argument that brain is behavior (or consciousness). In general I agree with this statement, it is simple and logical following the idea presented earlier by Searle that consciousness is an emergent property of the brain. In particular I like how Searle ran through the general mechanism of neuronal firing and then stated that from this rather simple mechanism consciousness arises. This is a highly simplistic view of how the brain is consciousness, yet it is true and something we can grasp. Thinking about how the brain brings all these neuronal firings together and gives rise to consciousness (i.e. the mechanism for the "binding problem") is much more complicated and overwhelming, because of how little we know about it. As Searle puts it, jumping from electrochemistry to feelings is the hardest part of the mind-body problem (p. 28).
My one problem with this chapter was Searle's critique of visual experiences and the real objects these experiences are based on. He refutes Crick's idea that we only see symbolic interpretations or descriptions, and never the real object. He claims we see the real object and do have direct knowledge of the world. I view this issue differently, as a combination of both ideas, not as either or. We see the real object, yet our mental picture is a representation of the object. My experience, retina, lens, cortex, etc., influence how I see real object, to the extent that what I see is my own representation of that object. Although my general picture of the object (my representation) reflects certain properties of the real object- that is why we can all look at a fruit bowl and recognize the orange, almost spherical object as an orange- the details of that object are our own interpretation (e.g. shade, size, etc.). The influence in my perception of the object might lie in the "binding problem." The mechanism via which we bring different stimuli into a "single unified experience of an object" (p. 33) might be what alters out perception of the "real" object.
Chapter three presented Edelman's interesting and logical categorization of sheets of neurons as "maps" (p. 40) and the "reentry" process among maps (p. 41). Edelman's assumption that the brain is equipped by neuronal groups that die out or survive (selectional mechanism) seems possible, but it is unlikely that the brain only develops this way. There must still be some component of learning from experience and the environment (instructional mechanism). For example humans continue to make new neuronal connections throughout their life, wouldn't these be instructional? Edelman also describes a set of criteria necessary for the development of consciousness, learning, memory, etc.. These criteria are essential and sound, yet they are only a piece of the puzzle and not the whole picture. His assumption that "consciousness is an outcome of comparative memory . . . " (p. 47) is lacking the concept of self and a mechanism by which this occurs. His explanation that a concept of self derives from social interaction is not convencing. As Searle said the brain might have all the functional and behavioral features that Edelman talks about without necessarily being conscious (p. 48).
In chapter four I got a bit lost in the mathematical discussions. I did agree with Penrose's idea that brain processes cause consciousness, but that consciousness cannot be simulated by computers (p. 60). There are many physiological factors and processes that affect our brains and therefore consciousness. These factors and processes could never be simulated by a computer. In addition, it also seems like an impossible task to set up the basic network of the billions of neurons in the brain in a computer (at least not at the present time). There is an intrinsic quality of our brains as a living organism that computers will never have.
One of his first arguments is that the definition of consciousness is not as difficult as others seem to think. He gives us a definition he believes is sufficient and moves on. To me that was an extremely important step, since sometimes we get so caught up with defining consciousness that we can't move on and analyze it further. So I give Searle two thumbs up for getting the ball rolling.
Searle is not completely happy with any of the books he talks about. They all seem to have their own flaws and none of them are really conclusive. Searle seems to like the neurophysiological explanations that Francis Crick gives for visual perception and its relationship to consciousness. However he has issues with the philosophical assumptions he makes in his argument. His major qualms with Crick's argument is that he does not fully understand the problem of qualia. He says that qualia, or the "qualitative, private, subjective experience" of the more objective firing patterns of neurons, is not just an aspect consciousness. It is consciousness. This is one of the problems with Gerald Edelman's work which he talks about later. I think this is one of the most important points that he brings up. The distinction between the specific pattern of neuron firing and the experience that one feels due to it, is essential to understanding consciousness. He reiterates this point several times throughout the different chapters.
Gerald Edelman describes the features that make up primary consciousness. This includes reentry mapping, categorization, learning, and distinguishing between self and nonself. Searle's complaint with the book is that it still doesn't explain the big picture of consciousness. How do these smaller features work together to result in consciousness? This can not be clearly stated yet, due to lack of neurobiological information. However I think it is a good start to understanding the larger picture. Consciousness may be too large of a concept for us to comprehend completely, but we may be able to understand the smaller steps and put them altogether.
The last work he talks about is by far the most confusing. It deals with logic excercises that I couldn't follow at all. However, Searle concludes that the book talks more about Godel's Proof and quantum mechanics than consciousness anyway.
Thus far we see some interesting models for studying consciousness. Crick's method involves using one aspect of the neurological functions of the brain to draw parallels to other functions such as consciousness. Edelman tries to break consciousness into smaller part to study it. Though they may not be very conclusive yet, they do have potential to expand.
Searle's dealing with the work of Crick is rather straightforward and does not require much discussion. Edelman's ideas, however, are a bit different. While the idea of several 'homunculi' is quite appealing adn probbaly correct, the concept of mapping of experiences does not logically bring about consciousness in my eyes. I agree with Searle when he claims that Edelman's work and insight is not sufficient to explain consciousness. If his view were equipped with more of what Crick has to say about how consciousness becomes an emergent property of the brain, it may be more readily understandable.
Penrose's approach to consciousness is definetly interesting, but very theoretical in nature. While Searle tries his best to make Penrose's insight understandable to the reader, it is still very twisted. The bottom line, i.e. that AI in any form is impossible, I find an a wrong conclusion, as Weak AI systems already have been devised; systems that pass the Turing test, at least in constraint situations, have been designed.
Overall the philosophical introduction to consciousness that Searle gives is multi-facetted and interesting. However, the view that the Churchlands hold, i.e that neuronal firing and circuits can ultimately explain all of consciousness should be at the forefront of the consciousness debate now. Afterall, our means of investigation are getting better. Probably Searle will treat this and other views in the next chapters.
Searle (and others) often use the computer analogy to discuss consciousness. i agree that there is something innate in humans that allows us to be conscious that does not exist in computers. I guess one reason why i feel this way is one that Searle brought up himself, that "computation" is relative to the observer. (p.15) This suggests that consciousness can exist in different ways for different people. Computers seem less likely to develop consciousness simply becuase they don't have the ability for spontaneous variation that humans have. To me anyway, humans are much less predictable than a computer. I feel like this spontaneousness must somehow tie into consciousness (though i admit, i'm not sure how.)
I disagree with Searle's critic of Crick's idea of perception. Searle believes that he really is seeing an object, whereas Crick believes we see a symbolic interpreation of the object. I have to agree more with Crick, because what we "see" in our brains might not be what is really what we're looking at. Our brain sometimes fills in holes in our visual system, thus part of waht we "see" is our own creation and not what the object really is.
I really liked Edelman's description of the brain maturing in a Darwinian manner. This theory could help explain the spontaneous variation of humans that i mentioned earlier (- our brains adapting in a way specific to the needs of each individual brain, etc.) I also liked Edelman's idea of primary consciousness nad higher-order consciousness, and the incorporation of memory and learning into the development of consciuosness. i think that consciousness does exist on a number of different levels. and i think that it's logical to think that memory and learning would contribute to sonsciousness.
This made me wonder though, at what level does consciousness begin? Penrose seemed to believe that consciousness must be explained at the sub-neuronal level. this intrigued me, becuase i had been thinking that consciuosness must begin at a much higher level, when different systems in the brain were interacting and thus creating a conscious level of functioning. most of the rest of the fourth chapter pretty much lost my interest with all the mathematical discussion. The other thing that grabbed my attention in the chapter was the discussion of mistakes in functioning. This reminded me of Edelman's idea in chapter three that schizophrenia may be due to breakdowns in the reentry mechanisms. how do mistakes and breakdowns in functioning affect consciousness? and if they do have an affect on consciousness, than does that mean that people are living at different levels of consciousness?
My overall impression of the book was that it's hard to agree/disagree with what Searle is finding/saying about the books he's reviewing, without reading the books myself. But if I just take what he's saying about the books as true, then I find myself having many opinions on what is said.
The first thing I found interesting about Searle's approach is how he compares consciousness to other biological phenomena such as photosynthesis, digestion, etc. It's clear that he regards consciousness as an action associated with life that has a physical mechanism. However, in the case of conciousness, unlike photosynthesis and digestion, the mechanism is not simple. The second chapter on Crick helped reaffirm my belief that consciousness is an emmergent property of the brain. However, it was interesting to consider the alternatives. 1)Strong AI- Consciousness is a program run on the hardware of the brain 2)Dualism- Brain and Mind are two separate things
The third chapter on Edelman clarified more specifically what consciousness could be. Saying its an emergent property of neuronal interaction is fairly vague. Edelman described categorization, memory, learning, self, time and reentry pathways. These are all fairly concrete ideas of what constitiutes conciousness. Personally, I don't think all of these are necessary for consciousness, but clearly some are. I think that consciousness has many different degrees having every property is probably the highest degree,like humans, and having just one or two of these properties is consciousness on a lower degree, such as in fish. I think consciousness could be well analyzed if looked at in degrees. To the question of, What physically makes consciousness? One can answer, what is it physically that makes humans more conscious than that fish. Increased neuronal numbers, increased groupings of neurons, greater interconnectivity.....
The fourth chapter was a little to abstract. I don't see how Weak AI can be refuted since computers are obviously able to model systems, including brain systems. What I did find interesting was that he thinks consciousness is better explained with quantum mechanics. I can't say I disagree since that would introduce an element of randomness associated with behavior. But its interesting to see how all along I've been thinking of neurons and conections, but the real mechanism might just be much smaller
In Chapter 1, Searle presents us with a definition of consciousness stating that it is something that "switches on and off" and is "an inner, 1st person, qualitative phenomenon". I was first confused by the idea that it switches on and off, but Searle went on to clarify that within a field of consciouness there are states that range in intensity, which made more sense to me. Another interesting point made in this chapter was the question raised on how far down the phylogenetic scale consciousness extends. This is a very interesting question that I never thought of. It is a tough question to address because what can be used as a measure of consciousness in, for example, insects? It would be interesting to observe what organisms overtime deleveloped consciousness and why they might have developed it while others didn't.
Chapter 2 brings about the ideas of Crick where it is stated that "all of our conscious experiences are explained by the behavior of neurons". This remindined me of a discussion in our class earlier in the year when we were talking about treating psychological disorders with medical treatments or with psychological treatments. Even though the approaches are different, when it comes down to it, both approaches have their final effects at the neuronal level. Searle adds to Crick's important ideas by stating that the neuronal firing isn't the same as the feeling. It is also worth noting that a medical treatment such as a drug bypasses the conscious level and directly affects the neurons while the psychological treatment is performed at the level of consciousness and its neuronal effects are based on how the individual receives it and interprets it. Crick's work also addresses the idea of "binding effects". Searle explains the binding effect as being aware of many different experiences at one time. One wonders if you can really remain conscious of everything around you at once. Individuals have the ability to tune out certain stimuli which is opposite to the binding effect. The best example that I can think of is the "cocktail party effect" where one can tune out other conversations at a party and listen to one that is more interesting to that individual. This is opposite to the additive qualities of the binding efffect and shows that consciousness is selective.
In chapter 3 Searle summarizes the ideas of Edleman. He talks about the mechanisms needed in the brain to attain primary consciousness. A study could be done to observe the consciousness of people who are disrupted in any of these mechanisms such as memory or learning. Edelman also states that the brain does have a selectional mechanism which is a very important idea. The brain only strengthens what is useful and does not use what it does not need. This could explain the selctive properties of the "cocktail party effect". I was kind of disappointed that Searle did not mention the brain structures that Edelman discussed to describe which areas of the brain correlate with the different mechanisms. That would have been interesting to look at.
Chapter 4 was very confusing. Searle was basically discussing Penrose's approach where he used Godel's proof to prove that we are not computers and cannot even be simulated on computers. He also uses the ideas from quantum mechanics to explain consciousness at a neuronal level. It was tough to understand Searle's objections to Penrose's arguments too. One statement that I found interesting was used in the argument against the use of the computer as a metaphor for the mind. Searle states, "These symbols are meaningless until some outside human programmer or user attaches an interpretation to them." I agree with that statement, but I also believe that it can apply to humans as well and not just computers. From the time we are born, humans are taught letters and numbers and the meanings associated with them, if we were not taught this then they too would be meaningless symbols.
Searle brings to the discussion of consciousness some very interesting challenges and questions. One of his most well-known arguments in the Chinese Room, where a person solves problems in Chinese by following a given set of rules. Using this example, he concludes that the theory of Strong AI (Artificial Intelligence) is not possible-that computers cannot attain consciousness. This is because computers operate computationally, in the same way that the Chinese Room problem works by following rules to solve problems. If one looks at the Chinese Room problem head on, in the manner that Searle does, I can see where it is probable that he is correct. However, I disagree with his example and the conclusions that he draws from it.
The first flaw I see in Searle's example is that the Chinese Room problem is a poor example of human consciousness. A person does not translate or solve problems in a language by using rules perfectly. There are a great deal of mistakes which people make, indicating that consciousness is not perfect (at least in humans). If I overlook this first problem to Searle's example, another one comes to the forefront and that is Searle's assumption that the mind is purely computational, including the processes that we understand to be under the label of consciousness.
As much as Searle criticizes other people for the assumptions that they make, he falls into the same trap by basing his argument on computational models of consciousness. By claiming that he already knows the mechanisms which create or allow consciousness to operate, he digs himself a hole. Research has not concluded that our minds/brains are purely computational. In fact, there are some relatively new theories which support a network model in the brain, where links exist and are strengthened and weakened by use. Network theories divide operations more broadly across the brain and de-compartmentalize them to some extent. Fundamentally, if we find that the mind is not entirely operated computationally, then Searle's argument does not hold because his example of how the brain works would not have any bearing on the actual mind or consciousness.
It seems that the more we learn, whether it is through reading, research, or thinking, that we keep having to work around other challenges to conciousness and how it must work. Working with Searle's arguments helps me to clarify what I believe I know about the mind and conciousness.
John Searle makes it very clear in the first 4 chapters of the "The Mystery Of Consciousness" that a satisfactory explanation for consciousness has yet to be developed. This message comes across through his review of the work of several other authors. The list of authors includes Crick, Edelman, and Penrose. Essentially, Searle presents how he feels these scientists have contributed to the study of the mind and consciousness, yet always, and I believe rightly so, concludes that the primary question of how consciousness emerges from the brain remains unanswered. However, I do believe that there are several problems with Searle's analysis.
To begin, it is difficult to trust Searle's interpretation and summary of the works he reviews. I believe this to be particularly true in his review of Francis Crick's book. Searle discusses many reasons for finding problems with Crick's work while citing very little from the text itself. Additionally, if my reading is at least half correct, the goal for Searle at the outset appears to be to analyze and summarize what it is currently theorized about consciousness. However, rather than accomplishing this task, at least in the first four chapters, it appears Searle is also trying to prove his philosophical perspective on consciousness. For example, when reviewing Crick's work he points out Crick's philosophical errors. Among these errors are those relating to, as it seems to me, eliminativist vs. reductionist (or folk psychological) theory of mind. It seems to me, Searle could have spent more time presenting Crick's work for its ability to shed some perspective on consciousness rather than dragging the reader through a purely subjective critique of Crick's possiblephilosphical ineptitudes. Further adding to my distrust in Searle's reviews and interpretations, particularly of Crick, was that Searle did not bother to even describe what reductionism vs. eliminativism entailed. Nor did he define or describe how complex and multi-faceted these positions can be or how they relate, if they relate, to how he is interpreting/critiquing the author.
I have recently written a paper in which I critiqued Searle on the following point: Searle proclaims to be seeking answers to questions of the mind by looking within the nervous system, that is by looking at that the neurons. It certainly seems from the current text that he is in keeping with his proclamation. However, and I have been informed that I am in agreement with many others, although Searle claims to be analyzing consciousness from the modern-day materialist perspective, it seems Searle will never believe the nervous system is enough to produce consciousness. For example, Searle argues that consciousness is an emergent property of the brain just as liquidity is an emergent property of H2O molecules. My guess is most people, including myself, would say that this is a reasonable statement. However, aside from what Searle writes, what his analogy may be more consistent with the following: there is something about the water molecules in addition to them being water molecules which results in the emergent property of liquidity. This is a quite different statement. The problem is, no matter how in depth (for example, Edelman's proposal) or how close a person may come to describing the nervous system or how it may be possible for consciousness to "emerge", Searle is not likely to be satisfied with the answer. There seems to be some mysterious other thing in addition to the nervous system that Searle is looking for. I feel that because to most people consciousness is mysterious, and its mechanisms are unknown, this aspect of Searle's perspective can remain undisclosed. This makes it very frustrating to read his analyses.
Finally, Searle is intrigued with the question, as am I, of how neurons, which are quantitative, and seem to have no meaning, or rather, no syntax nor semantics, result in the subjective experiences we call consciousness. However, I am also fascinated with how a flow of electrons or fiber optic systems result in the beautiful color picture I receive on my television. How is it that I just plug two prongs into a wall and suddenly, there it is, The Young and The Restless. How is it that a satellite dish picks up whatever kinds of waves it picks up, and suddenly there is Die Hard II? Not only this, but how is that I can switch to 30 different stations and have a different show on each one, all coming by way of cables and wires? How can invisible, yet quantitative waves, result in something so amazingly different? Certainly there are those who know exactly how this works, I obviously am not one of them. Nevertheless, that these previous examples are possible and exist, I am not very surprised that our own biological system of electrons and waves, etc, can generate something so different as consciousness. I know as much about the latter as I do about the previous, that is nothing, however, just as there really is nothing "mysterious" about receiving a color picture and sound, I don't believe there is anything really "mysterious" about consciousness. We may or may not ever figure out the mechanisms of consciousness, yet, I think its a sure bet that it is a result of the nervous system and not something in addition to the nervous system that makes consciousness possible. I don't trust that Searle really believes this.
February 7, 1999
The Mystery of Consciousness (Part I)
One of the questions I had which emerged from my reading of the first half of Searle’s The Mystery of Consciousness concerned his discussion of the relationship between consciousness and brain functioning. Searle states that "we have to abandon dualism"(pg. 6) but my understanding of his arguments outlined in his book does not convince me that he has entirely rejected a dualistic argument.
Searle tries to explain that consciousness is not dualistic through a "non-event" causation explanation. To use his example of the solidity of a table, a table is a solid table because of the molecules it is composed of. The table IS the molecules just as, in my opinion, consciousness is neurobiological processes. As soon as one says that consciousness "emerges" from neuronal activity, they are separating, to a certain degree, mind from body. Searle states that "neuron firings cause the feeling, but they are not the same thing as the feeling" (pg. 30) which is a statement I agree with but do not fully understand. Obviously the qualitative feelings of consciousness are not neuronal firings but at the same time, that is exactly what it is. I feel that Searle is separating the two phenomena when he poses questions like "how… does the brain get us over the hump from electrochemistry to feeling?" (pg. 28) since all it is is electrochemistry.
Edelman’s theory contains many of the same faults. Searle’s summary of his argument seems to indicate that Edelman maintains that the relationship between brain activation and consciousness is a causal relationship (pg. 50). However when Searle states that in order to understand Edelman’s arguments, and his own too I would think, we will need to have a greater understanding of the brain and neural processes, I wholeheartedly agree. I realize that I cannot explain or even hazzard a guess as to how consciousness cannot fully be explained by neuronal activity alone but cannot be a separate entity from it either. My goal in this paper is primarily to question Searle’s explaination that consciousness is an "emergent property" of neural activity without being solely neural activity and his belief that this does not necessitate a dualistic explaination.
At least at this point, it does not seem too reasonable to think that we are going to reach a full understanding of consciousness. Too many unknowns exist, precluding the possibility of biologically explaining the phenomenon. From the first four chapters of Searle's The Mystery of Consciousness, we can at least start to gain an appreciation for how difficult the challenge is. Scientists, philosophers and other great minds have struggled for centuries, and what we know now is not all that much more than what we knew then.
To have any good communication about consciousness, there first needs to be an understanding of what it is. Searle talks of Crick and the inconclusiveness of being able to define what it means to look at and see something. Similar biological processes are occurring in all of our brains when light from an object hits our retina, yet how we are actually seeing that object could be extremely varied. Two people's notions of the color red may seem the same from the outside, yet how it's analyzed in the brain can be quite different. Perhaps there is too much philosophy wrapped up in this aspect of science. Despite the differences in perception, Edelman's argument is that we can still study the science that underlies it all even if we ignore the small variations between people. Though, what are we actually trying to accomplish by gaining a better understanding of consciousness? The end goal, as I see it, is to understand fully the neurobiological functioning of the brain. To do this, consciousness needs to be understood. Rather, what we call consciousness needs to be understood. And it appears as though this understanding will rest in our study of neurons at a micro-neuronal level - as Penrose might suggest.
I wonder if we are trying to look too hard for something that may not actually be explainable. Some things just need to be accepted at face value, and the more you think about it, the less it makes sense. But, without this kind of questioning, science would not be where it is today. Where should we draw the line though? Do we want to understand every little piece of the brain's functioning in the hopes that one day we can make a truly conscious artificial being? Intriguing, yet what's the point?
The statement 17 principle that Searle discusses on page 64 raises an interesting point: how do we talk about something that is true, yet not provable? Can we just discuss it as is or do we need to dig even further - but to where? Statement 17 and consciousness are not similar examples, yet is it actually possible that a biological function may not be provable? Perhaps if it is not provable, then it is not actually real. And then consciousness is just a title that we give to some type of everyday existence, or thinking, that is happening in our brain.
Regardless, I think we can all agree that consciousness is something that exists. At this point, we cannot simulate it artificially, but that just means that we don't have the technology or understanding as of yet. Let's see where Searle takes us in the next few chapters.
Computers are not able to produce consciousness. Searle, himself, shows that computers cannot produce consciousness. He argues that computers are largely glorified computational devices. Computation is dependent on outside interpretation from a conscious being for it to exist. Consciousness is independent of any such interpretation. One is either conscious or it isn’t. It also occurs to me that computers will never simulate consciousness because they will never do so independently. Human consciousness emerges from biological processes regardless of outside input (one could argue that parenting is that outside input). However, computers are made, programmed, and run by humans. A computer will never spontaneously grow or develop consciousness. Humans would have to program such a feature into the hardware of the computer. For this reason, computers are no better than our own knowledge of how the brain might produce consciousness. That is to say, we can only simulate consciousness on a computer based on our current knowledge of the neurology underlying it. Because our knowledge is so incomplete, it seems to me that our time would be better served studying the actual neurology rather than a poor computer model of consciousness. At some point, when our knowledge is more complete, it may help to have a computer model of how different areas of the nervous system interact. However, as noted earlier, this should not be confused with consciousness.
Ever since computers were invented, people have been searching for the correlations between how computers work and our consciousness. Searle attempts to show that such correlations are inappropriate. However, he does not do enough. Computers cannot and should not be confused with consciousness.
Personally, I agree with the author in that taking any model of consciousness too literally will inevitably fall short since an understanding of consciousness is so far from accomplished. However, I also feel that Searle claims to have a far greater understanding of consciousness than is actually so. His use of the Chinese Room arguement seems to be an unnecessary emphasis of the obvious, which is that consciousness contains an element that is extremely subjective and which differs from one individual to the next. Therefore, anyone looking to create a model of consciousness must simply accept the fact that a crucial chunk will be missing until someone discovers what creates the qualitative nature of consciousness. (also referred to as "qualia") It seems that Searle overlooks this chunk to serve his means of developing a definition of consciousness.
Chapter 2 gives Searle's critique of Crick's article explaining consciousness. Basically, Crick asserts that all behavior is to be explained in terms of neurological circuitry. That is to say that the brain is behavior. I agree with Searle in that Crick is wise to admit how little is known about consciousness. i also agree that looking to those elements of neurology that we do have a somewhat thorough knowledge of is a good place to begin in the search for a neurological definition of consciousness.
Chapter 3 speaks of Edelman's view that the brain functions by using "selectional mechanisms." He also claims that higher order consciousness is derived ultimately from the sense of self which seems unclear and unfounded. Searle presented his ideas of allowing differences in personal experiences to exist without having to disclaim a model of consciousness made more sense to me in this chapter. he compared qualia to the idea that each individual has different fingerprints which did not hinder the development of an understanding of skin. In the same way, an understanding of consciousness should be able to develop in the same way.
Chapter 4 is an attempt by Penrose to prove mathematically that computers can not simulate consciousness to a significant degree. It seems that although Searle finds Penrose to be an intelligent individual, his inferences on consciousness are both limited and uninformative. The only amount of information learned is that computers do not seem to hold enough ground in the quest for finding a model of consciousness.
Thus far, the author seems to be taking a reductionist method to defining consciousness. He is taking the ideas of other great thinkers and picking and choosing those elements that he feels add to his own definition of consciousness while trying also to disprove those elements that do not. I feel, however, that the idea of defining consciousness was not so much the goal of this book as determining how to go about beginning to define consciousness. This in itself seems logical but also very circular and unproductive.
John Searle’s The Mysteries of Consciousness is an interesting examination of the problem of consciousness. My major problem is that despite his claims and critiques of others Searle doesn’t really advance the case of a biological state of consciousness.
In his opening chapter Searle calls for the end of dualism (pg 6), but in the end his philosophy is just another form of dualism. It might not be the classic dualism of Desecrate, but its very similar to one known as property dualism. The best way to explain that philosophy of property dualism is through the example of water. Water can be thought to have the properties both of the water and of the properties of hydrogen and oxygen, both of which are distinct from each other, and argument similar to Searle’s table argument. So by saying that consciousness is a separate property or “emergent property” from the neural properties of the brain Searle is setting up a dualist interpretation of the brain. This is not just philosophical hair splitting, if in fact Searle’s emergent property claim is correct the established laws of neuroscience cannot apply to consciousness, at least in any way currently understandable, so we need a totally new approach to consciousness; which leaves us in same place as dualism. It might be acceptable if Searle left us with some direction or inclination on how to go about solving to problem of emergent properties, a short coming he is quick to point out in others, but he doesn’t; he just reiterates that consciousness somehow a biological process like digestion.
Despite my dissatisfaction with Searle’s in answers to the problem of consciousness, I do concede that his Chinese room thought experiment is one of the most powerful illustrations of the problem of Strong AI. It seems impossible for the man in the Chinese room to gain an semantic understanding of the syntactic manipulations he is performing. Unfortunately, the brain is in the same position as the man in the Chinese room, all it receives is syntactic information in the form of neuronal impulses, but somehow it must gain semantic information. To get around the dilemma created by his own thought experiment Searle talks about emergent properties, or causal powers of the brain, but he offers no solid explanation as to why these properties should arise.
Another problem I have with Searle is that he seems overly conscious of being labeled a dualist and thus tries to stress his belief about the importance of biology. A good example of this comes when he is talking about the problems with Strong AI and concedes that consciousness could possibly be an emergent property from a machine of some sort. After making this concession, he goes on to say that he feels it is likely that only a biological entity could have the necessary conditions for the emergence of consciousness. But he fails to give any real for his faith in the magical causal powers of biology.
Even thought I disagree with Searle in many aspects, I think his work has made some valuable contributions to the study of the problems of consciousness. His chapter in this book as well as the other three we read give a good introduction to complexity of the problems and the attempted solutions of the question of consciousness.
Along these lines, one issue concerning the nature of consciousness and its relation to the brain which I have found especially troublesome, yet extremely fascinating, is the debate between eliminative and causal definitions of the phenomena (i.e. can consciousness be said to reduce to, or to be caused by, neural processes?) I find this question especially interesting because there seems to be such a fine line between these two definitions and yet they have very different implications for the understanding of consciousness and the brain. While both claim that consciousness is a biological process and that it can only be explained and understood on the level of the brain, they offer different perspectives on the specific nature of the relationship between consciousness and the brain. While the first position claims that consciousness can be reduced to brain processes and that the concept of consciousness can ultimately be eliminated, the second position suggests that consciousness is caused by brain processes but that it is a phenomena in and of itself which can not be eliminated despite its neurobiological explanation. This distinction is so important because it can mean the difference between claiming that the mind and body are one and the same thing (materialism), and that the mind and the body are two separate entities (dualism).
Searle takes the position that consciousness is a feature of the brain which is caused by lower-level neuronal process. He emphasizes that consciousness can neither be eliminated by its neurobiological explanation, nor can it be thought of as a separate entity from the brain. In this way, he provides “a solution to the traditional mind-body problem, a solution which avoids both dualism and materialism” (8). Such a functionalist perspective provides a nice explanation which I happen to agree with, however, it seemed at times that Searle might have manipulated the ideas of those whose works he reviewed in order to better prove his point. For example, Searle seems confident that Crick’s apparently inconsistent account of eliminative reductionism is merely confused support for causality/functionalism (29-30) and, since I have not read the original account, I have no way of knowing if this is the case.
Another recurrent problem with this account of the relation between the brain and consciousness is that there is as yet no real determination of how “brain processes cause consciousness” or how “consciousness emerges as a function of the brain.” While Crick looks to visual perception and the binding problem and Edelson looks to categorization for explanations, it always comes back to the same question: how do neuronal processes in the brain cause something as complex as consciousness? It will be interesting to see whether the second half of Searle’s book can provide any answers to this question.
I felt as though Searle made a strong attempt to explain everything and provide enough background information so that someone with little former knowledge could access what he was saying. But danger lies in the fact that we are depending on him to explain other people’s arguments. It is clear from his writing that we are not getting an objective presentation of the other side, that everything is engineered to sway us in favor of his arguments. But with this in mind it is still very possible to appreciate what Searle has in mind.
The first thing that caught my imagination was Searle’s main point that consciousness is a natural biological activity that arises from the function of our brain. In one sweeping gesture he rejects all previous dualistic theories on the separation of mind and body. While very dismissive of so much other work I found it refreshing to read something so absolute from someone so sure of himself. But I also found it hard to hear, as a self-aware individual, that my consciousness is just a result of the presence of neurons interacting in my brain. I think it’s easy to say as a scientist that consciousness is just the result of the interaction of a large collection of neurons, but as a conscious and aware individual it’s much harder to accept.
Later he attempts to alleviate some of the anxiety that accompanies reducing consciousness to a collection of neurons by addressing the issue of computers and the simulation of consciousness. When I initially read that consciousness is just a natural extension of brain biology I thought about computers and that if they can simulate neurons firing and neural networks than it should only be a matter of time before there is enough computational power to design a conscious machine. But Searle speaks to this in his critiques and says that regardless of how complicated a computer can get, it can never really be conscious. It may seem conscious and have all the indications that it is conscious, but all it is doing is running a program, which is just a collection of symbols that we have given meaning. It has no concept of what it is doing, it’s just manipulating data in a way that it was designed to do. He then goes on to say that because humans can comprehend things that computers can not resolve, then computers can not simulate the human mind. They can simulate a state of consciousness, but they can not actually become conscious. This makes sense, but I don’t feel as if he is addressing consciousness itself as much as drawing lines in the sand. You can obviously draw a line between computers and humans by what they can and can not do, but what about the possibility of humans being a much more complex manifestation of a computer. How are we so different from a computer. What’s wrong with the analogy that our minds are our “hardware” and that our experiences with our environment shape and create our “software”. It seems the real distinction that Searle is trying to make is that computers just do what they are programmed to due by the rules they are given and that that can not lead to consciousness. But we live our lives by the rules that we are given by experience. All of our neurons are firing away doing things that we have no comprehension of, yet Searle is able to say that we have a greater understanding of what we are doing and that is the distinction between humans and machines?
I’ve seen a children’s stuffed animal toy of the pig BABE that was basically a little computer that they can interact and talk with using yes and no buttons(two of the pigs feet). While in a toy store once I proceeded to play with BABE and it asked my about my family, how many siblings I had, how old they were and so forth and so on, then it proceeded to take a nap. I’m 22 years old and it had me enthralled, I can only imagine how real and “conscious” the stuffed BABE would seem to a small child, even though it was obviously a toy in the eyes of an adult. Is it possible that we are more machine-like than we care to admit, or that it is beyond our comprehension at the present moment in time to see ourselves as complex machines. It may be that we, as humans, have to “grow up” and see that
Gregory in his Editorial, Peculiar qualia, suggests a role for qualia in evolution and consciousness. He suggests that qualia affect behavior in a way which aids survival. Due to the fact that perception is mainly a top-down process, one which relies on "ancient knowledge" and stored knowledge from past experience, qualia are necessary "to flag the present" (Gregory 1996). Gregory presents the eye-blink reflex as an example of the evolutionarily favorable influence of one particular "quale." Although this reflex was selected for long ago, the response is non-perceptual because it is the real-time, direct response to a stimulus. The distinction between perception and qualia is necessary for healthy functioning vs. a Schizophrenic mindset, for example. It is very important to be able to distinguish the present from "the remembered past" and "anticipated future" (Gregory 1996).
Qualia enable humans to respond innovatively to novel situations. Robots, however, may only follow their given programs. There is no true equivalent to the "error message" in the human brain; although, humans often become frustrated when challenged. Take, for example, a situation where a human and a robot who has been programmed to be able locate all escape routes are trapped in a room with only an impassable door and a 2-way speaker to communicate with the person in charge. The robot would most likely either wander around aimlessly until he runs out of power or until he finds the situation impossible and receives an error message. The human, however, might try to reason with the person on the outside. Even if the robot tried to communicate with the outsider, his pleas would be far less charged than those of the living, breathing, feeling human being. A robot's lack of emotions prevents him from attaching the same kind of importance to different tasks. The human's consciousness allows him to adapt to his new context and perhaps to learn as he goes; whereas the robot is only able to draw from his previously existing code.
The moral is: humans are still better than computers!
The term "Conscious" or the state of being Conscious cannot have an objective meaning. Searle's common definition of the term consciousness are the states which we experience from waking from "dreamless sleep" to sleeping again. He doesn't understand why defining consciousness is such a difficult task. He quickly skims over the state of being unconscious, when in reality even this hasn't been thoroughly investigated.
Searle discusses the idea of dualism, separating the mental world from the physical world. He doesn't agree with this theory and feels as if the mental state, or consciousness should be thought of as another biological process. Isn't this a blanket statement? Consciousness is a biological process, but I don't feel that consciousness can be equated with the secretion of bile. There is no doubt that the brain plays an integral part in consciousness, in fact it is responsible for the state. But it cannot be equated with other functions of the body because consciousness has a connection with several biological processes. For example if you haven't eatin in a while, your body will give you signals of hunger, and this signal will invade into your conscious state. So in this sense, I feel that consciousness is a biological process, but much more complex than other processes such as those he described.
Another aspect of consciousness which he discussed was the computational model of the mind. He believes this theory, but breaks it down into strong AI and Weak AI. I do not feel as though the mind can be compared to the computer. If no input is given to a computer, then it will remain functionless. The mind on the otherhand doesn't need any input to perform functions.
I feel as though it is very difficult to philosophize about biology, especially an aspect which is so uncharted as consciousness. Searle is trying to minimalize consciousness, but if it can be done, how come most scientists who study it cannot completely define the state? His ideas are quite challenging yet I find him very difficult especially when he uses confusing metaphors (such as the computer). His view would probably be better understood if he explained it in plain terms of the mind.
First of all, I must admit that I have little faith that the "mystery of consciousness" will ever be completely solved, especially through the approaches Searle discusses in his book; however, despite my belief in dualism, I found the first four chapters of Searle's book fascinating. Consciousness is one of the most important things we as human beings can explore, since it is the key to understanding who we are, both on an individual basis and on a global basis. It is also something that will not be explained by only one discipline, which is what I enjoyed the most about the book. While I do not agree with any of the approaches discussed so far, Searle's integration of these differing ideas into one book presents an important concept: the necessity of a combination of efforts, each very unique in their interests, working to examine the same dilemma.
What bothered me, however, about the chapters is Searle's bias. First of all, he never presented his own personal theory in detail; he stated other authors' theories then pointed out where he feels they were incorrect, without providing the reader with any sense of what he himself really believes. His approach was to take a simplistic understanding of neuroscience, such as what one might find in an introductory psychology or biology text, and twist it around with philosophy into something no more concrete than the theories he condemns, those that assert that consciousness is an unobservable, abstract phenomenon. He presents the reader with no information of his own; he contributes nothing to the existing body of knowledge concerning consciousness, merely regurgitating what others have written, praising or criticizing them, but never offering hard evidence of his own belief.
At the risk of interjecting my less-than-biological personal beliefs into this, I must once again state my belief in dualism. Consciousness, as I think of it, is comprised of the mind and the soul, neither of which I believe can be understood through science, if it can be understood through any current way of thinking and studying. In my opinion, consciousness cannot be comprehended by any of the secular (for lack of a better word) methods Searle has discussed so far, least of all computers. I was pleased by Searle's condemnation of others who believe computer simulations will help us to understand consciousness, but for reasons a bit different than his. Since this enters into areas very much outside the realm of neuroscience, I will refrain from a lengthy discussion, but in short: humans have a mind and a soul; computers do not. Therefore, no machine will ever have the ability to analyze such as we do, to feel physical sensations such as we do, or to feel emotions such as we do. I feel that continuing exploration through electronical methods is not only a waste of time, but also a show of a lack of compassion. One theme that consistently ran through the book was the acquisition of an understanding of consciousness for the sole purpose of its acquisition - nothing more. There was no mention of putting this knowledge, should we ever obtain it, into anything useful. At one point Searle discusses the possible uses this understanding could have, including psychology, as a brief aside. I have a problem with this lack of interest in applications because without psychology, what good is neuroscience? What is the point of studying consciousness if not to apply it to improving the quality of the world? Searle treats the study of consciousness as just one more thing we must learn about so that we can continue to file knowledge away as a kind of trophy of our advances as a society. If indeed scientists and philosophers and psychologists are going to persevere in attempting to understand consciousness, the desire to do so should not come from the prospect of amassing large quantities of knowledge for the sake of having this knowledge, but from the hope of bettering the world.
Searle's book, The Mystery of Consciousness, finishes in the same way that the first have of it worked-with Searle hilighting and reviewing modern explorations of consciousness. Considering the whole book, I think that his most interesting thoughts stem from the challenges of Dennett but also from his conclusion chapter where he asks questions and then answers them.
Dennett's and Searle's interactions appear to be a series of fumbling disagreements and is disappointing in its lack of dialogue. It seems like they keep arguing over difference points, one past the other, and never manage to talk about the same thing. I do have to agree with Searle that Dennett is very roundabout and frustrating to read. But I also agree with Dennett in that Searle keeps pulling out his ancient "Chinese Room Problem" over and over without consulting all the arguments against it and the fact that many people do not take seriously. I find it interesting and frustrating that much of Searle's work talks about the Chinese room and how artificial intelligence will never attain consciousness because it is computational. He never leaves room for the possibility that computers or AI could eventually be created using a different processing mechanism, such as connectionist networks. But most annoying is the fact that his life work seems to be based on these premises, as well as a great deal of the material in this book. And then, in his conclusion he writes: "But I thought that your view was that brain tissue is necessary for consciousness? -No that has never been my view." It makes me wonder where he does stand because he seems to walk all the lines but never wants to cross them.
Although I do not agree with Dennett in that people do not have consciousness (that we are all zombies), or Chalmers' suggestion that there might be universal consciousness, I respect their ideas because they try to reason them, while Searle just calls people names. And it seems that at least they make fewer about faces concerning their work and stand by their guns or work to evaluate and adjust their theories. Searle suggests focusing efforts to learning about consciousness but I must admit that after reading his messy twists and turns I have no idea about what he thinks we should do. Is he a dualist or a materialist? Does he think AI is possible and to what extent? Is computer modeling a useful tool for understanding consciousness? And he does not even discuss eliminative materialism and the implications of such a movement within the study of mind.
What would be most useful to me, is to consult theories and try to work with those that appear to help me address my questions. My preference is for functionalism because I believe that it does leave room for consciousness at the same time as it stresses the importance of having mechanisms that create it (whether it is a human brain or silicon chips). By reviewing the paradigms that we (as psychology or biology researchers etc.) implicitly accept, we can challenge our knowledge and perhaps work to adjust theories that we take for granted (such as memory being stored in the brain). It is important to analyze what we use on a daily basis and to question the accepted "truths" upon which we so heavily rely.
This essay is a continuation of my first, written 2/1/99. In that essay I attempted to make an analogy between the way consciousness may work as a direct result of the nervous system and the way electrical or other signals and waves result in producing what we see on television. I thought this was a very matter of fact, almost ridiculous sounding analogy, but I now see a way in which it could prove important. It may actually provide a way for me to address Searle's problem of the brain's "causal powers". That is, Searle believes that any system can have consciousness as long as it has the causal powers that the brain has. I have not yet heard suggestions of what the causal power may be and personally believe there is no causal power to be found. In any case, while Searle emphasizes that consciousness is a result of the brain (the nervous system in general) he will not assign consciousness to any other system unless it has this mysterious causal power. Because he does not know what the causal power is, he is unable to attribute such a power to any other system, and thereby assumes he has stable ground on which to reject almost all, if not all, explanations or theories of consciousness. Thus, until the causal power is defined (which is likely to be never), Searle will refuse to assign consciousness to any system other than that system governed by a brain, our kind of brain.
I am now beginning to believe that what I am seeing as Searle's problem may actually be the problem of many others. It seems to me that people are looking for some transitional state in which the nervous system goes from cells firing to consciousness. There seems to be a requirement for some kind of transitional state-- and this transitional state, I was thinking, must be the causal power. That is, the thing that happens between cells and consciousness must be the causal power that Searle is thinking of. Well, I don't understand why it is believed that there must be a transitional state. It may be possible that there is no transitional state, which brings me back to my analogy. If we think of what electric signals and electric waves are capable of elsewhere, such as what I think of as the "TV phenomenon" (because to me it is utterly amazing), we provide ourselves with a reason to stop looking for causal powers or transitional states. As long as one insists on searching for some mysterious something else, the problem of consciousness may never be addressed in any useful way. That is, no matter how complex of a model a person comes up with, that model will never be sufficient to account for consciousness because it will always be missing a key feature. This feature is the answer to the question "OK, we have the tentative mechanisms, now how does it work? How is this process converted to consciousness?" In particular, the question will remain "what is the causal power?" My point is that one needs to consider that consciousness may result from the electrical currents and magnetic waves etc. of the nervous system, just as TV shows result from the same- without any mystery. It is possible for one very different physical system to generate a very different property or system- we see it with TV and we may be seeing it with consciousness.
Because it seems plausible that there is no causal power or any other mysterious power responsible for the manifestation of consciousness, and because history tells us that things are not always what they at first appear to be, I believe the Dennett approach to consciousness may prove valuable (although if one takes Searle's version of Dennett, this may not seem all that clear). Dennett's strategy is to deny mental states exist in the sense that Searle defines them. Dennett believes that there are ways in which we interpret behavior, and the ways in which we do this are strongly influenced by evolution, in particular cultural evolution. I believe Dennett referred to this process as the heredity, so to speak, of memes. Certainly the way in which we interpret much of what we do and what we see is based on what we were taught things, events, or patterns, mean. Therefore, if we want to understand how the nervous system works, and how consciousness works, we need to begin at a point that will disregard the memes and only look at the biological evolution of the nervous system. Or, put a less harsh way, one needs to treat memes for what they are, and try to use biological evolution to understand what preceded the assigning of a particular meme (-if I understood correctly what memes are in the first place). Searle on the other hand, insists on treating what have been called memes as facts of the world, and I believe this is a poor approach. Searle refuses to believe that memes may be sunsets in disguise.
I agree with Searle in his opposition to Dennett's argument that there is no such thing as consciousness. To reduce consciousness to "reactive dispositions" is to oversimplify the human mind. It does not explain things such as beliefs, desires, and emotions since these are not allows expressed through behavior. He further reduces human beings to zombies and compares their pain to human pain, which to me seems completely contradictory. Searle points out that zombies by definition have no feelings, thus they don not "feel" pain like we do. I just can not understand how he can deny our qualitative perception of pain. The arguments that the two of them have are quite humorous. However, I agree more with Searle in that Dennett does not provide any real substance to back his claims against Searle's arguments.
Chalmer's argument was extremely difficult to follow. He was incorporating too many different philosophies, which made his claims indecipherable at times. Also since I was not familiar with all the theories, such as functionalism, dualism, etc., I found myself getting lost amongst the philosophical jargon.
I really liked Rosenfield's approach to studying consciousness. He examines patients that have damaged one more aspect of the "normal" functioning brain. From this he can see what role those parts of the brain play in consciousness and other functions of the brain. He proposes a theory that consciousness is a result of body image. He emphasizes the role of memory and self awareness in consciuosness. Searle concludes by saying that Rosenfield's book is not "a well-worked-out theory of consciousness", instead it is just some observations on the nature of consciousness. Perhaps this is what I like about Rosenfield's work. It is not a speculation of what he thinks consciousness is, instead it is an active scientific investigation of consciousness. Searle claims that the only way the mystery of consciousness will ever be solved is if the biological questions are answered, but he also seems to support the more philosophical approaches to dealing with consciousness. Later Searle concludes the book by saying that one approach to studying consciousness is through the study of the unconscious. Isn't this very similar to what Rosenfield is doing?
This book does illustrate some extremely interesting views on the study of consciousness. Not having thought about consciousness very much before this class, I've realized that there is a lot to think about. The mystery or problem of consciousness may never be resolved, but it is useful to discuss since the question seems to come up so often. It is also extremely relevant to the study of the brain.
While Dennett maybe is not to be accepted as the last authority with regard to consciousness, I disapprove of Searle's treatment. On page 109, Searle accuses Dennett of denying the Chinese Room arguement without stating why he does so. This accusation is not correct. Dennett's idea of how the brain works is that it is not inheritaly semantic, but rather it tranforms syntax into semantics. By stating this, Dennett inheritely addresses the third premise, whihc is the most significant one for Searle's Chinese Room arguement - if it is to work. However, not only does Dennett address it and can deal with it, the premise faces another problem. It begs the question. It asserts that 'syntax by itself is not the same as nor sufficient for semantic content.' Nowhere does Searle bother to derive or argue this point. He merely states it, in that manner begs the question, and ultimatly is left with a very weak premise. Which actually is not philosophical sound. On page 110, Searle commits an interesting mistake. He states, 'I believe the brain causes conscious experiences. ... In principle at least it might be possible to build an artifact, an artificial brain, that also would cause these inner states.' By asseritng this, he unwillingly, one must assume, assert Strong AI, a position he previously ademently denied. I believe this mistake, i.e. that he contradicts his own claims, does not speak for him. In fact, it helps bring Dennett's point homw about Searle not being a serious writer about consciousness.
Also Chalmers is not necessarily correctly attacked by Searle. First, as Searle sets up his case against him, he fails to coherently explain why he believes functionalism fails as such. On pages 141 and 143, he endows functionalism with certian failures to appreciate or not appreciate consciousness, but never explains why he does so. He entirely disregards the possibilities functionalism opens for the study of consciousness. On page 144 and later on page 150, Searle attacks Chalmers for postulating that consciousnes is caused in the brain because of the way it is functionally arranged. Searle presents Block's arguemetns about the population of China which could in this manner becomes one conscious mind. Also, he says about inanimate objects they could never be conscious despite all the functional organization one could implement in them. While Searle seems very satisfied with this arguement, I believe Searle is entirely missing Chalmers point. He afterall does not insist on the importance of number, but on the importance of functionality. For him not the trillions of neurons eventually give rise to one consciuosness, rather the nueronal networks in whihc they are arranged to function gives rise to consciousness. This arguement, however, which seems plausible enough and actually in line with Crick and Edelmann, Searle does not even address. On page 146, Searle argues the zombie thought experiment. He describes a scenario in whihc a zombie is precisely like a human being, only his brain is replaced by silicon chips and it is entirely unconsciuos. This thought experiment is flawed, as a zombie acting just like a human must by all matter sof reasons also be conscious. It is surprising Searle would agrue for this scenario, as he swiftly denies Chalmers the right to conjure up a zombie quite like Searle's own - only in a diferent realm under different premises. This is not very logical. Also, on the same page, Searle manages to contradict himself yet again. To deny Chalmers one of his conclusions, Searle says, 'the structure and function of the brain are causally sufficient to produce consciousness.' By maing this statement, he essentially cuts into his own flesh twice. First, he essentially disagrees with his own Chinese Room arguement. Second, he asserts Chalmers idea about how the brain's structure implemets consciuosness. An interesting point Chalmers makes is the one about consciousness being implemeted in all particles of the universe. This theory is quite like the magnetic field idea Erin Hunter brought up in the last Seminar, i.e. that maybe the brain emits consciousness because every bit in it has its won consciousness. Back to Searle, his treatment of Chalmers is extremely self-righteous and I agree with Chalmers whole heartedly when ha says that Searle manages to only say'the brain causes consciousness', but fails miserbaly to ever show how this would happen.
I am not quite sure why Searle included the portion on Rosenfield in his book. However, two things came to my attention. Searle asserts quite frequently that biology and the current state of neuroscience have to be taken into account and should be accomodated in all theories of consciousness. However, while he probably thinks he does just this by repeating that the 'brain causes consciousness', he actually is quite poor at doing this. For instance, on page 184, he questins Rosenfields notion of memory as an ongoing activity of the brain. If I am correct, the new state of thought on memory is that it occures through gene alteration andso forth, i.e. ongoing activity of the brain. I believe Searle's inconsistency here again shows that he is much more self-assured about his thoughts than his writing and consistence, or rather lack thereof, grant. The other item that came to my attenbtion was that Rosenfield argues that successful study of consciousness can only occur when examening oneself. This statement supports Searle's claim against Dennett on how to study consciousness. Possibly then this arguement explains why Rosenfield is included in this review.
In the conclusion, Searle committs soem more strange mistakes. For instance, he says that Strong AI is 'the last gasp pf dualism'. However, as dualism states that the brain is the mental, it denies the possibility of AI. Precisely the reason why functionlaism is now so successful. This shows again that Searle has substantial problems presenting things correctly. Also, while Searle sets the chapter up as though he would demonstrate a way out of the consciousness problem, he doe snot do so. Hence, his book essentially fails to answer the question it set out to address. I therefore do not think 'The Mystery of Consciousness' is a good introduction to philosophy of mind and consciousness at all. Other writers may have served the purpose better.
Although I enjoyed Searle's work, it seems he made the same points with the same examples over and over again. Brains cause conciousness, conciousness is biological like photosynthesis, etc. In the end I think I know what I believe, though I'm not sure how to classify it in philosophical terms.
Searle says conciousness is like photosynthesis and yet he refutes reductionism. Can photosynthesis be reduced? Yes, we know how the molecules travel and the mechanisms. So in the same analogy can't conciousness be reduced. To interactions between neurons- Yes. Because there is nothing more. Yet what we know about these interactions is very little, much too little to explain conciousness...yet. It may be that the threshold of conciousness is a complex specific grouping of neurons. It is the group together that is necessary for conciousness. And so conciousness can't be reduced beyond that...but like photosynthesis we know the mechanisms and molecules that make up this group and so it can be reduced if one reduces it to its composition and realizes that all these things together are necessary for the emergent property of conciousness.
Honestly, I was a little confused in the Dennett portion of the book. Searle says he gets rid of conciousness by getting rid of the data-denying concious states. The problem I have is that Searle always talks about inner qualitative states, but never tries to think of any real description of what is making these states. At least Dennett has thought about it. Searle just refers to it as qualitative states and lets it be.
The Chalmers part of the book was very interesting. Searle says that according to the functionalist view, complex systems such as the population in China could be concious too. Yes this does seem counterintuitive, but it can't be ruled out, we have nothing to show it exists or doesn't exist But it's completely possible. Which brings up panpsychism. Searle doesn't like this view at all and I'm assuming its not very popular. But still it's completely possible in the same way that we can imagine other species in the universe which are concious but use different biological means of achieving it. Do our cells (neurons) appreciate the concious state they produce, No. Not at all individually. So then as individuals the population of China can't be expected to be aware of any emergent property the may produce- Conciousness or otherwise. No there is no reason to adopt panpsychism, but there is no reason to deny it. Agnostic is a good position. Especially when one considers human scientific history. All the misinterpretation of data confounded with social beliefs.... Who knows itn the future it may be counterintuitive to not believe panpsychism, it the meantime it cannot be denied or accepted.
I liked Rosenfield's section. Of all the reviewed books I find myself most interested in reading his. He provides a fresh look on things without all the philosophical baggage. I think there is definately something to be learned from going backwards with conciousness. Seeing what stops it, thinking about animals with less conciousness. All these things give us a better idea of what makes conciousness- specific neuronal organization. And when you study people with brain deficits you get a better idea of specifically how these neurons are organized.
In all, Searle does a good job at presenting current thought in a concise way. His questions and answers at the end were particularly good in summing things up and reducing my remaining confusion.
As for Searle's discussion of Chalmers' theories, again, i feel it was tainted by Searle's bias. I don't really see why Chalmers ideas aren't at least plausible. i don't think that consciousness necessarily need be a part of the physical world. As Searle tells you over and over, he believes that consicousness must arise from the brain. At one point, he tells us, "It is just a plain fact about nature that brains cause consciousness." Though i believe that consicousness does most likely arise from the brain, i don't know how Searle can claim that it absolutely does. We don't know enough about consciousness to make that statement.
It also bothers me that Searle insists on denouncing anything unscientific in understanding consciuosness. Searle procliams dualism is unacceptable because it is unscientific. I agree that science will greatly further the study of consciousness, but i don't feel that it should be look at from only a scientific point of view. It almost seems counter-intuitive to take this view. AFter all, things such as artwork, poems, theatre, etc. arise from our consciousness (at least it seems as if they must to me). Do we attmept to explain these things from a scientific perspective? No, because we wouldn't be able to fully explain them in those terms. Yet they are a part of consciousness. Maybe we can't fully explain consciuosness in scientific terms.
In Chapter 6 I became confused in the way in which Searle presented Chalmers views. I felt as if Chalmer and Searle were both attacking each other and not really answering each other's questions, so I am not sure how much I got out of this chapter. Chalmer says that there are two meanings to pain, one where pain is not a conscious state at all and the other, a meaning dependent on consciousness where pains are unpleasant sensations. I think that Chalmer's ideas make sense. A person could move back and forth from these two meanings. At some points an athelete could be feeling pain but they would not be consciously aware of it and if one touches a hot stove then they immediately remove their hand because it is an unpleasant sensation. I believe that our brain allows us to make the choice and move back and forth from these two meanings.
Chapter 7 was probably one of the more interesting Chapters in this book because Searle didn't seem to have much bias in it. I agree with the ideas that memory plays a very important part in consciousness because it can be used as a reference point in consciousness. If someone touches a hot stove once and burns themselves, they consciously know not to do it again because their past memory tells them not to do so. We are consciously aware of our memories and that allows us to make the decisions that we do.
The last Chapter was basically a conclusion of Searle's thoughts and ideas. When he presented his thoughts and ideas as answers to questions it made some things clear, but overall it was hard to get a grasp of the different theories of consciousness becaus Searle had such a bias in presenting them.
The reason I bring this up is because I feel that it is hard to read his reviews on consciousness because they are so obviously biased. It would be more beneficial to read all the reviewed books instead since it seems like Searle goes out of his way to criticize those views. It leaves me with doubt that I am getting an accurate portrait of those theories.
However, Searle did make clear the idea that there has been no cohesive definition of consciousness, just various approaches of the subject. In addition, most of these approaches are purely theoretical, since we cannot really test the roots of consciousness. We spoke inthe last seminar about whether or not people should study consciousness. I still think we should, but I do not really see a concrete path. There seems to be a lot of theoretical discussion, yet I cannot see any conclusions being drawn from it all. I do realize, though, that we have only read Searle as an introduction and with more information and discussion we will, hopefully, make our own path.
Searle made another good point, which Kelly brought up in the last seminal as well, that we have so much still to learn about the brain. He mentions that we do not have a unifying theory of the brain. The problem with this is when we attempt to take on a topic such as consciousness because we cannot rule out much. This brings us back to the theoretical debates.
Searle did, at the end, come to a few good points about consciousness. I would have liked to hear more about Rosenfeld's book, since it had a different take on consciousness. Many topics were introduced and the type of thinking necessary to discuss this topic was brought forth. However, I feel that more understanding could have been reached if Searle had been less belligerent in his reviews.
The Dennet's ideas show the possibility of being quite interesting. A very logical approach to consciousness that excludes any mystical aspects seems like the most effective way to proceed with research. The existence of first person experience cannot be proven, so dwelling on the phenomenon of it for too long seems rather ineffective. Sometimes the best way to uncover the reason for something is to assume it soesn't exist until you can prove it's existence. Though it is illogical to think that I have no consciousness, it is also illogical to think that anyone, at this point in time, would derive any new understaning of consciousness from pinching herself and relating her first-person experience to herself, or anyone else. Though this may not be an appropriately philosophical approach, there is a reason why science is not philosophy.
Through Searle's book, I have learned very little except that he can dish it his insults and criticisms, but can't take them. My level of dissappointment in Searle only turned into disgust with his poor handling of Dennet's ideas. Calling Chalmers absurd and refusing to give any credit to his ideas only emphasized Searle's immaturity. I am not able to give any sort of credence to Searle's interpretations of any of Chalmers or Dennet's works, as his critique is from the outset extremely biased.
His explanation of Rosenfield's work is no more valid than either of the other's. Once again, interesting ideas about memory and consciousness are lost in Searle's self-serving dribble about his supposed superior understanding. This book, especially the last chapter, has done little to further my understanding of concepts of consciousness, as the discussions of them are of little value. It has, however, been very effective at interesting me in what other authors, such as Dennet, Rosenfield, and Edelman have to say. I would not trust this book to explain to me what any of the authors are truly saying, but I will credit it with giving me an increased interest in what the work being done on consciousness is.
In Searle´s review of Chalmers´ work I agree with the view that behavior and functional organization are not sufficient to give rise to consciousness. There are many behavior that humans carry out that do not require the person to be conscious in order to be carried out. Similarly the existence of casual relationship does not mean consciousness results from this process. I disagree, however, with Chalmers´ claim that there is something non-physical that gives rise to consciousness. In my understanding of the matter the brain and brain functions give rise to consciousness. This is supported by the ideas put forth in Rosenfield´s chapter and by something as simple as anesthesia. Someone under general anesthesia is in an unconscious state, and therefore does not feel pain or any other emotion, in addition to not having self-awareness. Clearly if something such as a drug that alters the nervous system can temporarily bring on a state of unconsciousness, then consciousness is a function of the brain, something physical.
There are only two points made in the second part of Searle´s book that helped me reaffirm my understanding of consciousness was the chapter on Rosenfield and one of Searle´s conclusions. The cases presented in Rosenfield´s chapter give evidence for the presence of consciousness as a physical state. This is demonstrated by how alterations in the normal function of the brain alter consciousness. In Searle´s concluding chapter I agree with the conclusion that: "The mystery of consciousness will gradually be removed when we solve the biological problem of consciousness." (p. 201).
Digestion and photosynthesis are, without question, biological processes. It is an undisputed matter in the science world and even to the general population. In researching these systems, almost all causes, mechanisms and effects have been accounted for. What remains to be discovered about these processes is usually up to fine tuning of research techniques but overall, there is no philosophical debate over these processes because they are physical processes and a full understanding can be gained through scientific methods.
It can be inferred empirically that consciousness, on the other hand, is a far more complex system, if it is to be called a system. Perhaps "entity" may be better terminology. I cannot help but consciously say to myself, consciousness must involve more than what is being said and what is known, that there is something far more intricate and intriguing than simply a network of neurons that is putting our consciousness together and making it work. Throughout Searle's book and his discussion of the writings of others, it is obvious that consciousness becomes increasingly difficult to discuss. It is no wonder that Searle, though he argues that consciousness can be completely explainable biologically, must take his discussion to a philosophical level, employing logic and debate. If we look at the whole picture of consciousness, it is impossible for us to systematically break it down in the way that we do when looking at photosynthesis. There is a seemingly endless amount of logistical issues standing in the way of getting to the heart of what the causes, mechanisms and effects of consciousness are.
I still cannot see how Searle can reject any metaphysical role in consciousness. He does not offer anything that refutes its role. He is quite convincing in his critique of Chalmers' theories in showing that they are quite logically absurd. However, Searle, being a philosopher, is not obliged to support the scientific world though he does. His occupation on the whole includes the pursuit of truth, not only scientific truth. If the metaphysical world does truly exist, it cannot be proven by science which only deals with the physical world. If Searle cannot give any strong argument that consciousness is entirely biological without simply asserting it time and again, he cannot preclude any discussion of it. The possibility that this dualism, as Searle likes to call it, cannot be disposed of. It is understandable that neurobiology needs the assertion that behavior can be explainable scientifically and thus, if consciousness is a form of behavior, it can be explained by science. I realize that if one does not accept the assertion, one cannot proceed in this quest to understand the neurobiological basis of behavior, consciousness included. At the same time, I concur with the class that understanding consciousness is a noble and worthwhile pursuit. However, Searle nor his colleagues have given me a proper entry into the discovery of consciousness. In his meshing of both science and philosophy, he leaves the reader with a jumbled mess and nothing resolved. After reading Searle's book, The Mystery of Consciousness, consciousness remains just that, as much the mystery as it was before.
February 21, 1999
The argument which most intrigued me in the second half of Searle’s review of literature on consciousness was the section on Daniel Dennett’s account of consciousness, or lack there of as the case may be. Dennett makes the claim that internal mental states simply do not exist. It seems to me that claims such as Dennett’s must first be refuted before one can truly start the investigation of the roots of consciousness.
Rosenfield believes that memory is necessary for consciousness and vice versa. (How the two can be necessary for each other is one aspect of his argument that I don’t really understand.) Part of this memory-consciousness system is the body image. This leads Searle to point out that “all consciousness begins with consciousness of the body.” (184) This is an important point because I think it shows the difficulty in believing that computers can one day be conscious (and along with it Chalmers contention that many inanimate objects are conscious). I do not believe that it will ever be possible for computers to have a fully developed knowledge of self. This would require an awareness of their own hardware in a way that would be difficult to program into a computer, and I frankly do not see that kind of knowledge emerging spontaneously from a computer. In addition, I am reminded of Jon’s comment last week that for a computer to be conscious it would need to be able to process an infinite number of bits of information that result from the simplest movement. This ability to process that information is part of the sense of self, the body image.
Rosenfield’s theory also links in nicely with Edelman’s theory. Edelman (in Chapter three) presents several necessary components of consciousness. The idea of the body image as the starting point of consciousness seems to encapsulate Edelman’s criteria, namely the need for memory, learning, sense of self, and time. These things enable a being to have a body image which then enables one to be conscious of self which leads to a general overall consciousness.
The overall effect of Rosenfield’s theory is to point to areas that can be studied to better understand how consciousness works. If we could understand how the body image breaks down in patients such as the ones that Rosenfield outlines, we could begin to understand some of the neurological components of consciousness.
I feel nowhere closer to understanding consciousness, or even various theories of consciousness, now than I did before I read Searle's book. Searle's accounts of each theory are entirely too biased to allow one to form an accurate picture of what each theory actually says. Even the theories that are better explained left me with quite a bit of confusion, wondering if I was receiving a reliable version of them in light of Searle's obvious rejections of them. Searle's lack of professionalism not only irritated me, but also left me mistrusting him and his authority to refute the theories.
Most importantly, I still have no idea what Searle's theories are. His conclusion, which I was anxiously awaiting, hoping he would at last reveal his grand ideas that blow away all other theories, was very disappointing. He reiterates his disagreements, once again pointing out what is wrong with each theory but never telling us what he thinks is correct, other than the "fact" that consciousness definitely emerges from the brain. What I find interesting is his propensity to criticize anything not scientific, followed by his claims that he would have us believe are entirely true. And yet, where are the data to back up these assertions? He certainly does not provide any evidence. What kind of science does not involve any kind of research or data? Apparently his does; his entire argument is hypocritical.
My feelings about Searle, however, do not mean that I agree with every author he discusses. I had a hard time understanding Dennett's belief that there is no such thing as consciousness. Along the same lines as Searle's disagreement with Dennett, I have to say that we must have a state of consciousness for us to even be able to debate whether or not we do have a state of consciousness. And like Searle, I vehemently believe the answer to understanding consciousness, if an answer even exists, is not to be found in computer models. As I wrote in the last essay, a computer cannot feel. One can make the argument that given the right program, a computer can produce a state (of course not qualitatively the same as what we can produce) of emotion, say love, in a series of symbols. But this cannot be applied to human beings because it does not explain how both love and hate, for example, can coexist in the same individual and be applied to the same object with equal intensity simultaneously.
Once again, I believe that we are a long way off from understanding consciousness, a goal that might not even be attainable with our current ways of thinking. It might not be attainable at all. But if we are to hope to further our knowledge, it will have to be a result of many fields working together.
I was especially interested in Searle’s discussion of blindsight and the relevance of neuropsychology to the study of consciousness. I have heard and read about blindsight and other neurological disorders such as prospagnosia and semantic access dyslexia and I agree with Searle that such cases can be very useful to the study of consciousness. Blindsight, as Searle explains in the conclusion, is a phenomena in which a brain damaged patient can process visual information without having any conscious visual experience. Similarly, prospagnosic patients have a specific difficulty recognizing faces and yet it has been shown that they have higher autonomic responses (based on measures of galvanic skin response) to faces which would have been familiar if not for the neurological damage. Semantic access dyslexia is an acquired reading impairment in which a patient can make semantic decisions about a presented word stimulus without having any explicit knowledge of what the stimulus is. Such evidence seems to suggest that consciousness is something which can be selectively impaired by brain damage.
While I felt that Searle’s treatment of Dennett was overly harsh, I can not say that I agree with Dennett that there are no such things as qualia, and I don’t see how this position can be reconciled with the neurolopsychological evidence. The existence of these patients demonstrates that a deficit in the ability to have a conscious experience of something such as vision has rather obvious and severe behavioral implications. Dennett’s position, as presented by Searle, denies the existence of qualia, however, it seems that qualia are exactly what is missing in these patients. I am still not sure which position would be supported by the neuropsychological evidence, but I believe that functionalism would fit best. The fact that conscious experience can be selectively impaired by brain damage seems to suggest that consciousness is a causally related to the functional organization of the brain.
I would have been interested in learning more about these types of cases and what they mean for the problem of consciousness. Unfortunately, Searle only addresses this line of research briefly in the conclusion. I was wondering if this might be a good area to look at further and to present.
My desire for more dependence on biology and less on broad sweeping and often wordy theories lead to a lot of disappointment in the second half of this book. One of the few sections that I did enjoy was the simple and humble presentation of Israel Rosenfield’s thoughts. Initially, the idea of memory being key to self-awareness doesn’t seem very earth-shattering, but then it sinks in how important the past is so self-awareness. How can one be aware of a self without a concept of continuity? I think this raises an interesting issue with the simulation of consciousness on computers. If consciousness and self-awareness are dependant on being aware of both the past and the present simultaneously, then how could computers, especially serial computers (von Neumann machines), that can only handle things in serial succesion, ever hope to mimic consciousness. It’s possible that parallel processing could be the answer, but you are still just using processors that can only deal with one thing at a time. In opposition one could point out that neurons are limited to processing one action potential per unit space at a time and thus aren’t much different than a computer processor, yet they still contribute in some way to consciousness. This is where the problem of lack of knowledge about the biology comes in and all bets are off. The biology of consciousness has been so evasive so far that it’s not possible to even use simple arguments about the role of the neuron. Hopefully at some point in the near future advances will be made so that some of these philosophical questions can be answered or at least given more backing by the scientific community.
Searle's chapter on Dennett's consciousness views illustrates the denial of an inner qualitative mental state, i.e. subjective mental states. According to Dennett, the notion of feeling has no biological explanation and can therefore not be deemed valid. To further illustrate this idea, Dennett speaks of various behavior models one of which is the Connectionist model. Overall, this model serves to explain the way in which behavior can be modeled by means of a highly interrelated set of circuits that are strengthened and weakened through usage or lack thereof. Technically speaking, I understand the view that Dennett is trying to take. That is, i do believe that certain "behaviors" can be derived from past experience. However, as someone in the previous section stated, there are times that people purposely expose themselves to what are considered unpleasant circumstances, such as receiving an injection. Though this goes against our behavioral network of avoiding pain, the behavior itself is still enacted. Something overrides what is written in our neural framework and this, in my understanding, is where consciousness, the qualitative state plays a role. Dennett also makes an analogy betwen a "gene" and a "meme." I agree with Searle in that it makes no sense to assign behavior as the mere product of imitation. As Searle says, imitation itself is the result of a qualitative state that decides whether or not the behavior is worth performing. Thus, I feel that Dennett made no real basis for his denial of qualia.
Chalmer's work deals with the ideas of functional organization (the input/output mechanism for behavior) and a dualistic approach to the existence of pain. The combination of these two notions creates the idea that pain is both independent of and dependent on consciousness. As Searle claims, Chalmer's next goal was to explain the relationship between these two entities. In reading through the exchange between Searle and Chalmer, I must say that Chalmer is far too assuming. I feel as though he made his theory and then tried to explain all behavior in terms of this model even if it did not make complete sense. I agree with Chalmer when he says that there is something non-physical that gives rise to consciousness.
The chapter explaining Rosenfield's ideas on consciousness was most interesting to me, especially because of his mention of phantom limbs. Rosenfield most attributes a sense of self-awareness to consciousness. That is to say that "the experience of our own body" should be thought of as "the central reference point of all forms of consciousness." This is not to say that all consciousness involves thoughts of one's own body but that consciousness is rooted in the sense of our bodies. Without this sense, consciousness of other things can not take place. This is supported by the existence of phantom limb pain and sensation. Although there may be no physically present arm or leg, the brain creates the sensation of these limbs. This shows that the sense of body exists for all.
According to Searle, the computational model of the mind equates the brain with hardware and consciousness with a set of active programs (191). He says that this analogy implies that "brains don't matter" (191) due to the fact that software (programs) may be run on a diverse array of hardware. I agree that this approach denies a causal relationship between the brain and consciousness given that programs are not produced by the hardware; however, I disagree that this model trivializes the role of the brain. Programs would be useless without the hardware. The importance of hardware does not diminish just because there are many different types.
The computational model does a poor job explaining consciousness given that syntax does not equal semantics (Searle). This theory, however, may be useful in describing brain processes such a blindsight, which is caused by visual cortex damage (199). It has been shown that patients with blindight, more often than not, respond correctly when asked to guess items flashed on a screen which they deny having seen (199). It follows that there are certain brain processes typically associated with consciousness which may be activated in the absence of consciousness, making for a robot-like response.
Dennett is one who takes the computational theory to the extreme. He seems to believe that consciousness may be likened to any output from a machine and therefore may be studied objectively. I think a blend of a 1st-person account and an objective approach is necessary for the study of subjective experience. Despite the fact that he supports an objective study of consciousness, Dennett does not, as Searle so adamantly asserts, explicitly deny the existence of subjective states, at least as cited in Searle's book. It is not clear whether the "intuition" (118) Dennett rejects, refers to a feeling of knowledge of another's experience or to a gut sense of one's own feelings. If he is indeed arguing against subjective experience or qualia, I have to agree with Searle who finds this view completely absurd. I wonder how Dennett's ideas about consciousness affect his interpersonal relations. If he really does reject the existence of qualia, my guess is he's divorced. I can just imagine what he might say in response to an outburst by his wife..."Honey, you're not really feeling angry. That's just an illusion!"
Searle presents a fairly clear and candid discussion of different theories surrounding consciousness. I think it is important, however, given Searle's obvious biases, to read the primary literature he cites, rather than merely take his summaries of other's ideas on faith.
The second half of Searle's The Mystery of Consciousness tries to tie all of the loose ends together. Though this comes after some "heated" discussions between prominent researchers/critics in the field. Since there is so much still unknown about the realm of consciousness, it is beneficial that it be understood from different perspectives. It allows more questioning and potential that the mystery might actually be solved. It also highlights how hard it is to make points clear and how difficult it will be without any real biological science to reach consensus. Though as seen in the correspondence between Searle and both Dennett and Chalmers, the misunderstanding in the field only heats up the debate and encourages future research.
As most would agree, it basically comes down to the fact that we don't completely know what is going on neurobiologically to cause consciousness. It's a given that consciousness is something that exists, and Searle makes it quite clear that it is something that the brain causes, yet he emphasizes that "consciousness has a first-person ontology." By that he suggests that not any machine can be made to have consciousness, but rather humans and animals are unique in that they can "feel" the experiences of the world around them. Essentially, by the time Searle is concluding his thoughts from his book, much of what he says does not seem all that revolutionary. Some of the discussions from the chapters weren't all that clear or easy to follow (and for that matter, many did not seem all that believable, especially since they were coming from only one perspective), but it was still possible to come away with a clearer understanding of consciousness. While before reading I may have thought the phenomenon to be somewhat separate from the brain, I do certainly consider it now to be nothing more beyond what the brain creates. There is a higher order functioning that creates the conscious experience, but not one that I believe cannot be explained. Science definitely has much further to go, but if Searle wanted me to come away thinking that there is an end in sight, he succeeded.
I question whether or not a machine can ever be made that could be conscious. If it all comes down to science and making the right neuronal connections, then why shouldn't a conscious robot be feasible? Searle argues, as I said above, that humans have the ability to feel experiences. Yet a feeling is just something that is created by a particular path of neurons, traveling through the proper regions of the brain. Chalmers and the whole functionalism idea suggest that a belief or feeling, and therefore consciousness, is nothing more than causal relations - all networked inside the brain. I would agree at this point that the mind is definitely a function of the brain. If it is going to be possible to create consciousness, then it will first be necessary to make a machine that can truly feel and experience life's events as though they were affecting the machine/individual in some way. A scary prospect, but not something unbelievable once our knowledge base increases. Theoretically at this point, we can design a robot that could fool a human into thinking that it is conscious, if it is well programmed to respond appropriately to all external stimuli. Searle's arguments with Dennett highlight Searle's call for properly modeling consciousness in a lab if we are going to figure it out. I would not go as far as saying that "everything in the universe is conscious," but I would say that everything man-made has the possibility of being conscious if proper connections, inputs and outputs are made.
Even though I come away with a feeling that all of consciousness can ultimately be explained scientifically, I also believe that it wouldn't take too much to convert me back to the belief that there is something more, something unexplainable than is present. There may be just one or two pieces that are subjective and can never be understood biologically.
I definately feel that the second half of Searle's book was much more interesting to me than the first. I do not feel that Searle gave a fair representation of his colleague's, Dennett and Chalmers philosophy of consciousness due to the lack of subjectivity in discussing their ideas. From Searle's discussion on Dennett, I feel that I must agree with Searle on this issue of the existance of an inner mental state. That in itself is a large part of what consciousness is, at least my definition of it. Without the existance of an inner mental state, then physical thing can have consciousness, including a computer, a zombie or even a book.
Even though it is quite difficult to understand Dennett's ideas through Searle's biased depiction of his colleague, I do think that there is some validity to the simple multilayer network. It does make sense that there are layers in of organization in the brain, particularly an input level, internal representation levels (many), and an output level. What I do not understand is why can't there be communication between each level in the pathway, especially at the middle internal representation levels, where the brain can get more information of it's surroundings and this could be what contributes to consciousness....just a suggestion.
I think the best part of the book was the chapter on Rosenfield concerning the Body Image and the Self. Rosenfield or Searle's description of his colleague best explains my view on this matter, "our sense of self is precisely a sense of experiences affecting the body image, and all experiences involve this sense of self, and hence involve the body image." It seems that Searle is agreeing with Rosenfield on this matter, but he seems to disagree later in his conclusion, when he discusses the hammer and thumb example. He explains that the person should have the same experience/feeling as he has when he gets hit with the hammer, or that if a hammer hits a two different people with the same amount of pressure they should experience the same thing. I think I would have to refer back to Rosenfield's philosophy that it is our experiences that shape our sense of self. So therefore, a person who has never been hit before will experience the more pain than someone who has been hit before, when actually they are both being hit equally.
I think that the chapter on body and image touched on several important ideas, and was definately the most interesting part of the second half of the book. Another idea that I found extremely interesting was how Rosenfield defined an aspect of consciousness as the coherence through time and space and how this related to the experience of the body and thus leading to the body image. He tied in memory to consciousness very smoothly using clinical example's, but even more fascinating is how this theory fit in so smoothly with people who have multiple personalities. Rosenfield's ideas are definately something to look further into.
I feel that Searle's conclusion just restated alot of his ideas he brought up throughout the book, and weakly defended a few new ones. Overall I don't feel that Searle is taking a reductionist approach to the problem of consciousness, because of all of the ideas he seems to be juggling, and also due to the complexity of the problem.