Challenging philosophical assumptions about mind

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    Intentionality, ontology and brain science

    Update TRENDS in Cognitive Sciences Vol.9 No.8 August 2005 365inability to know whether other persons have mentalThe dichotomy between mental and physical is traced bySearle back to Rene Descartes, who saddled us withdualism, the thesis that mind and body are separate andirreducible entities. Descartes famous dictum: I think,therefore I am, involves an ontological leap of faith thatpersonal identity is established by thoughts that cannot begrounded in brain processes. This view that only I possessknowledge of my own mental states leads paradoxically towhat Searle calls epistemic solipsism, and the crucial

    tary and irreproducible interaction and integration ofevents taking place at different levels of neural, psycho-logical and experiential complexity [5,6]. Searle says heprefers unified field theories to building block approachesbecause the former take seriously the qualitative, unifiedsubjectivity of consciousness, whereas the latter seekneural correlates of discrete perceptions. But Searlesrejection of emergence puts him closer to monism,whereby intentions are simply a continuation, at a higherlevel, of neuron firings. This is a bottom-up conceptionextension, the contents of our minds, are not inside ourheads, but are matters of causal relations between what isin our heads and the external world, has led to a fallowperiod in the philosophy of language (p. 12). Searle seeksto rectify this error by furnishing cognitive science with aconstructive foundation in the philosophy of mind.

    Dualisms defects and materialist responsesBook Review

    Challenging philosophical aMind: A Brief Introduction by John Searle. Oxford University Pr

    Thomas C. Dalton

    Office of the Dean, College of Liberal Arts, Cal Poly State Univer

    The UC Berkeley philosopher JohnSearle is well known for his provocativewritings about the mind, most notably,The Rediscovery of Mind [1]. Searle takesseriously the relationship between mindand brain, and has aroused interest inthe phenomena of consciousness in hiscritical reviews of nobel laureates FrancisCrick and Gerald Edelmans neuroscien-

    tific studies of the brain and mind, among others [2].Described on the book cover as a dragonslayer bytemperament, Searle possesses the unrivaled ability topenetrate forbiddingly complex ideas with wit and incisive-ness that rewards the non-expert but attentive reader.Searle has devoted decades to describing what is specialabout human cognition, such as how we acquire knowl-edge of the world, act intentionally, fulfill our desires, anduse language to communicate our ideas. This book doesnot really chart new territory but further elaborates onthemes presented in his previous books [3,4]. Here Searleprovides readers a concise historical analysis about whythe subject of mind has become encumbered by assump-tions that present a misleading conception of the relationbetween physical, neurobiological processes and mental,psychological phenomena.

    Searles book was motivated by his concern that thePhilosophy of language has reached a period of stagnationbecause of certain common mistakes that surround theso-called doctrine of externalism (pp. 1112). Searlecomplains that the notion that our words, and byCorresponding author: Dalton, T.C. ( online 13 June 2005

    www.sciencedirect.comThe materialist mistake, Searle observes, is to equatecausal reduction with ontological reduction. First-personconsciousness cannot be reduced to or substituted by athird-person perspective, because it is observer depen-dent. The point of consciousness is not to carve off thesurface feature, Searle argues, and reduce it to lower levelprocesses, but to retain the first-person characteristic thatgives it an ontological uniqueness (p. 118). Searle believesthat the key to preserving this ontological integrity is toshow that the condition of satisfaction of some mentalevents involves causal self-reference whereby the contentof the event is caused by the intention. Searle believes thatby tracing the complex pathways through networks ofbeliefs in which intentional states are embedded, we willidentify the non-intentional capacities that caused theoriginal intentional state.

    This cumbersome strategy seems unnecessary. First-person consciousness appears to emerge from the momen-sumptions about mind, 2004. $26/14.99 (hbk). (viiiC326 pp.) ISBN 0 19 515733 8

    , San Luis Obispo, CA 93407, USA

    states like mine other than to infer it from their behavior.Descartes left unanswered two important questionshaving to do with intentionality, that Searle addresses,regarding how events in the brain refer beyond them-selves, and how brains and minds acquire specific content.

    Searle consumes two chapters describing the material-ist reaction to dualism, via behaviorism, physicalism andfunctionalism and their philosophical offshoots, to clarifythe neural basis and strengthen the causal underpinningsof mental phenomena. Although concisely presented,Searles lengthy historical discussion and summary ofthe arguments for and against materialism is tendentiousand of less interest to cognitive neuroscientists who willwant to get to Searles original contributions to theanalysis of consciousness. Suffice it to say that Searle isnot persuaded that materialism avoids reductionism oreliminativism, and may even reintroduce dualism.of mind that lacks the dynamic, reciprocally interactivefeatures of connectionist and network theories [7].

  • Internalism, externalism and the selfSearles colleague, Alva Noe questions whether internal-ism can completely ignore how the neural substrata ofconscious states are affected differently by multimodalstimulation [8]. Noe persuasively advances an enactive,temporally extended conception of consciousness inwhich experience plays a vital role. Moreover, there ispersuasive neuroscientific evidence that intentional beha-vior is recognized in other persons and simulated bymirror neurons in the absence of explicit goals. Metzinger

    realism in their models of brain processes. Socialcognitive neuroscientists may find that Searle fallsshort of providing a convincing first-person account ofintentionality that squares with extensive evidence ofthe simulated and imitative origins of human percep-tion. But perhaps Searles book will attract the strongestinterest among fellow philosophers of mind who aredissatisfied with historically traditional approaches andseek novel ways to bridge the gap between mental andphysical events, which has thus far prevented the develop-ment of a neurobiologically sustainable conception of the


    8 Noe, A. (2004) Action in Perception, MIT Press9 Metzinger, T. and Gallese, V. (2003) The emergence of a shared action



    1364-6613/$ - see front matter Q 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

    Update TRENDS in Cognitive Sciences Vol.9 No.8 August 2005366porate first-person perspectives in the analysis of con-sciousness will find Searles book of primary interest, aswill those cognitive neuroscientists who seek ontological


    Erratum: Evolutionary psycparadigmDavid J. Buller (2005) Trends in Cognitive Sciences 9, 277

    In the article by D.J. Buller, on p. 278, the y-axis label toFig. IIb was incorrect. Instead of

    Percentage choosing Eats cassava root and Tattooit should have read:Percentage choosing Eats cassava root and No tattooDOI of original article: 10.1016/j.tics.2005.04.003Available online 5 July 2005

    www.sciencedirect.comdoi:10.1016/j.tics.2005.06.006ontology: building blocks for a theory. Conscious. Cogn. 15, 549571

    1364-6613/$ - see front matter Q 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


    ology: the emperors new

    83. Available online 04 May 2005

    We apologise to readers for this error.ration, and who can be held responsible for ones actions.Neurophilosophers who seek creative ways to incor-Searles attempt to convince us that representationalrealism is the most appropriate epistemological stance toadopt acknowledges just how much language and socialconvention permeates individual perception. This explainsSearles Hume-like skepticism about an entity we call theself, because much of our language used to describe ourbehavior imparts the illusion of voluntarism and the con-tinuity of identity despite the discontinuity of experience.Nevertheless, Searle sees the need for a formal or legalconception of the self who is capable of choice and delibe-

    2 Searle, J. (1995) The mystery of consciousness. New York Review ofBooks, November 2

    3 Searle, J. (1998) Mind, Language and Society: Philosophy in the RealWorld, Basic Books

    4 Searle, J. (2002) Consciousness and Language, Cambridge UniversityPress

    5 Edelman, G.M. (2003) Naturalizing consciousness: a theoretical frame-work. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 100, 55205524

    6 Crick, F. and Koch, C. (2003) A framework for consciousness. Nat.Neurosci. 6, 119126

    7 McIntosh, A. (2000) Towards a network theory of cognition. NeuralNetw. 13, 861870commitment that does not involve self-reference [9].Accordingly, the experience of agency follows rather thanprecedes enactment of intentions. This marks the closureof the physical and psychological gap between simulatingor imagining doing something and actually doing it. 1 Searle, J. (1992) Rediscovery of Mind, MIT Pressconscious mind.

    and Gallese contend that the brain makes an ontological

    Challenging philosophical assumptions about mindDualisms defects and materialist responsesIntentionality, ontology and brain scienceInternalism, externalism and the selfReferences

    Erratum: Evolutionary psychology: the emperors new paradigm