The Rediscovery of the Mind Essay - Critical Essays

John R. Searle

The Rediscovery of the Mind

According to Searle, Mills Professor of the Philosophy of Mind and Language at the University of California, Berkeley, philosophers of mind falsely believe that if a phenomenon is not physical it must be mental, and if it is nonmental it must be physical. But because the notion of mental “stuff” is impervious to third-person objective physical science, the tendency is to see all consciousness as reducible to the nonconscious workings of the physical brain.

Searle’s polemic seeks to challenge this perspective, which, in certain extreme forms, denies the very existence of consciousness (which is absurd, in Searle’s view). He maintains that physical reality contains elements that are objective, but also elements (namely conscious experience) that are subjective, and that attempts to explain away the second are simply neurotic.

Searle believes the common description of the brain as a computer is misconceived. Physical processes in the brain produce consciousness, but these processes are electrochemical events, not the running of a program. A philosopher can describe the working of the brain in the metaphor of computation, but it is only a metaphor, not the reality. The image of the computer is so powerful in part because there are no adequate explanations of how the brain really does produce subjective experience. In the end Searle defends a kind of connectionism in which a system can receive meaningful input and convert it to meaningful output without resort to unconscious “rules” in between. The idea of a meaningful unconscious process is simply incoherent. Consciousness alone is the place of meaning.

Sources for Further Study

Nature. CCCLX, November 26, 1992, p. 394.

New Scientist. CXXXVI. October 3, 1992, p. 41.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVII, October 11, 1992, p. 15.

Science News. CXLII, July 11, 1992, p. 18.