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Searle on the Philosopher’s Zone

John Searle, arguably one of the most interesting philosophers of our time (well, philosophers are very seldom ‘interesting’ anyway) gave an interview on his views and ‘fascination’ on the topic of consciousness on Australian Radio’s (ABC) “The Philosopher’s Zone”. (Thanks Olga)

6 Responses to “Searle on the Philosopher’s Zone”

  1. Νικόλας says:

    Searle is interesting, but I think there are currently philosophers doing much more interesting work on consciousness than him. One of them is David Chalmers (his blog is here http://fragments.consc.net/). There is also a nice groupblog in the philosophy of mind here http://brainpains.com/wordpress/.

  2. cosmix says:

    Chalmers’ work is very interesting, indeed, yet I disagree with many of his basic premises, first and foremost being property dualism. In many ways I find Searle’s beliefs and works on the subject slightly closer to what I’d call a satisfactory explanation. That said, I do not fully subscribe to Searle’s idea of biological naturalism either; it has its fair share of problems. I think the problem is going to hit a hard wall as soon as neuroscience reaches a point where many basic concepts (e.g. dualism, the physical power and properties of neurons) will be scientifically (dis)proved, leaving philosophy much less ‘space’ to theorise on this matter. Thanks for the links.

  3. Νικόλας says:

    I am also a bit worried about property dualism but, as things stand, I see no alternative to it. In fact, it is almost impossible for me to imagine how we could ever come to obtain a fully reductive explanation of the phenomenal aspects of consciousness (qualia and the like).

    Have you read Daniel Dennett’s stuff? I think he goes as far as to deny qualia -which I find almost absurd- but his line of attack is extremely refreshing.

  4. cosmix says:

    No, I haven’t read anything by Daniel Dennett.

    I believe there are valid points both within biological naturalism and property dualism. The problem is how those ‘generalised ideas’ get manipulated by philosophers that use them. For example you can accept ‘property dualism’ as a form of ‘monism’ in reality. In that respect it is very close to Searle’s view. On the other hand, Searle rejects reductionism, something I am not ready to accept — although I admit it can be misleading and dangerous to try to apply it ad infinitum; I find Searle’s definition of consciousness as ‘part of the real world’ and ‘and emergent property of the brain’ contradicting, for example.

    Qualia, as a notion, suffers from the same problem: lack of a proper definition. One can babble for hours about how Qualia do not exist or how Qualia exist. One can devise numerous experiments showing one or the other, yet all this is pointless, in my opinion.

    Without an accepted set of definitions about what we’re talking about much of what’s being said and written about consciousness is not very valuable. Neuroscience can help there: While it might take much longer to fully understand the way our minds work, neuroscience can help place firm definitions of concepts and mechanisms that we now ignore. I can only hope that his will help philosophers devise more meaningful theories to those in existence today.

  5. Νικόλας says:

    About Dennet: Brainstorms is very lucid and exciting reading.

    ‘For example you can accept ‘property dualism’ as a form of ‘monism’ in reality’

    Yes, that’s right: Davidson has called it ‘anomalous monism’ -because it is not exhaustively nomological- but he does not deny that neuroscience can give us a complete understanding/description of its causes.

    ‘While it might take much longer to fully understand the way our minds work, neuroscience can help place firm definitions of concepts and mechanisms that we now ignore’

    This might be right, but it is question begging. You can only use ‘mind’ in this sentence if you think ‘mind’ is what neuroscience studies (whereas neuroscience only studies the brain).

    In any case, I don’ think we need to assume reductionism in order to make some progress on the scientific side. Anomalous monism is good enough (for science).

  6. cosmix says:

    You can only use ‘mind’ in this sentence if you think ‘mind’ is what neuroscience studies (whereas neuroscience only studies the brain).

    Actually that’s not true, no matter what you think, i.e. whether you favour dualism or monism; a lot of the things neuroscience studies would probably fall into the ‘mind’ category rather than that of the ‘brain’ (in the eyes of a dualist), even if its practical scientific domain is the latter. Yet, pandering for the difference seems pointless to me. You can go ahead and make a claim such as the one quoted above if you are an obsessed linguist or you believe that there is an actual distinction between the two for purposes besides — and beyond — the linguistic/lexicological ones. :)

    In any case, I don’ think we need to assume reductionism in order to make some progress on the scientific side.

    Well, fortunately, science does not need any philosophical assumptions to make progress, in principle. I’ll look into Dennet when I get some time, thanks.

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