The Mystery of Consciousness
John R. Searle, 1997

Chapter 1. Consciousness as a Biological Problem
In this introductory chapter, Searle reviews the state of the art in understanding consciousness, providing a firm background for the material to follow in the remaining chapters. After a few opening comments on the seeming difficulty of the task, he provides a commonsense definition:

"[C]onsciousness" refers to those states of sentience and awareness that typically begin when we awake from a dreamless sleep and continue until we go to sleep again or fall into a coma or dir or otherwise become "unconscious".
Searle then cites four problem areas which have plagued the study of consciousness.
1. The Dualism expoused by Descartes and Galileo in the 17th century was appropriate for the time, but is a powerful negative influence on current studies. In Searle's view, "we have to abandon dualism and start with the assumption that consciousness is an ordinary biological phenomenon comparable with growth, digestion, or the secretion of bile".
2. Brain states cause consciousness, but that does not mean that a separate mental reality is required. Consciousness is a "feature" of certain brain states, much as solidity is a feature of the table top.
3. We really have no idea how the brain really causes consciousness to occur. It's hard to study neurons without killing them, and there are So Many of them. How can publicly observable, objective things like brain states cause "inner, qualitative states of awareness or sentience"?
4. Some pundits have recently held the view that the mind is like a program running in the hardware of the brain. This view Searle calls "Strong Artificial Intelligence (Strong AI, for short)
to distinguish it from the view that the computer is a useful tool in doing simulations of the mind".

Chapter 2. Francis Crick, the Binding Problem, and the Hypothesis of Forty Hertz

Chapter 3. Gerald Edelman and Reentry Mapping
This chapter is really a review of four Edelman books,
Topobiology , Neural Darwinism , The Remembered Present , and Bright Air, Brilliant Fire . Searle begins the chapter with this well-deserved praise:

Of the neurobiological theories of consciousness I have seen, the most impressively worked out and the most profound is that of Gerald Edelman.
Searle summarizes Edelman's work perhaps better than does Edelman himself, although he calls it not a theory, but a hypothesis. As he puts it, "Edelman does not claim to have proven that this is how the brain works in forming perceptual categories". But he also credits Edelman's group with work on computer modelling to demonstrate the workability of some of their ideas. In this regard, Searle comments on the software simulations known as the "Darwin III" model, but does not mention the hardware version called Darwin IV . That work was reported in the early 1990's, about the time Searle would have been writing this chapter.

In the final analysis, however, Searle finds that Edelman has come up something short of the original promise. He argues that Edelman has given us a very detailed account of some very plausible brain mechanisms, but that none of this brings us any closer to understanding what brain activity actually causes us to experience things, to have the sensations known as "qualia", states of awareness, this is, to have consciousness.

During this discussion, Searle twice repeats his philosophical argument that it must be possible for a brain to have all the necessary mechanisms of consciousness, such as those Edelman describes, and for that brain to nevertheless not experience awareness. This is, of course, the old zombie argument. In the next to last paragraph, however, Searle wavers. There, he puts the position as a question, rather than repeating the statement. "And is it really the case that brains that have these mechanisms are conscious and those that do not are not?" At that point, he leaves the issue much as Boden has left it, that we will not really know these answers until we understand the brain better, and finally closing with this: "Though Edelman differs from Crick on many issues, they share the one basic conviction that drives their research. To understand the mind and consciousness, we are going to have to understand in detail how the brain works."

Chapter 4. Roger Penrose, Kurt Gödel, and the Cytoskeletons

Chapter 5. Consciousness Denied: Daniel Dennett's Account

Chapter 6. David Chalmers and the Conscious Mind

Chapter 7. Israel Rosenfield, the Body Image, and the Self

Conclusion. How to Transform the Mystery of Consciousness into the Problem of Consciousness


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