John R. Searle is the Slusser Professor of Philosophy at 
the University of California, Berkeley. His most recent book is ­Making the Social World.
 (October 2014)

What Your Computer Can’t Know

René Magritte: Birth of the Idol, 1926
We are all beneficiaries of the revolution in computation and information technology—for example, I write this review using devices unimaginable when I was an undergraduate—but there remain enormous philosophical confusions about the correct interpretation of the technology. For example, one routinely reads that in exactly the same sense in which …

Can Information Theory Explain Consciousness?

Tristan Tzara: Self-Portrait, 1928
The problem of consciousness remains with us. What exactly is it and why is it still with us? The single most important question is: How exactly do neurobiological processes in the brain cause human and animal consciousness? Related problems are: How exactly is consciousness realized in the brain? That is, …

The Mystery of Consciousness Continues

Odilon Redon: Closed Eyes, 1890; from the exhibition ‘Odilon Redon: The Prince of Dreams, 1840–1916,’ at the Grand Palais, Paris, March 23–June 20, 2011, and the Musée Fabre, Montpellier, July 7–October 16, 2011
What exactly is consciousness? There are a number of senses of the word in ordinary speech, but there is one that is most important for philosophy and science: consciousness consists of qualitative, subjective states of feeling or sentience or awareness. These typically begin when we awake from a dreamless sleep and they go on until we fall asleep again or otherwise become unconscious. Dreams are a form of consciousness. Consciousness, in short, is a matter of the qualitative experiences that we have. To understand qualitativeness, think of the difference between drinking beer, listening to music, and thinking about your income tax. Each experience has a distinct quality.

Why Should You Believe It?

Relativism has a long history in our intellectual culture, and takes several different forms, such as relativism about knowledge and truth, ethical values, aesthetic quality, and cultural norms, to mention a few. Paul Boghossian’s book concentrates on the first of these. The basic idea he opposes is that claims to …

Minding the Brain

After having been neglected for most of the twentieth century, the subject of consciousness has become fashionable. Amazon lists 3,865 books under “consciousness,” a number of them new releases of the last year or two. What exactly is the problem of consciousness, and why exactly is it so difficult, if …

Consciousness: What We Still Don’t Know

Much has recently been written about the subject of consciousness, thanks to the revival of interest in disciplines as various as philosophy, psychology, cognitive science, and neurobiology. Of these various fields of research the one that I think is most likely to have important long-term results is neurobiology, where the …

‘Sneaked’ or ‘Snuck’?

Unlike Noam Chomsky’s ambitious recent work in linguistics, Steven Pinker’s Words and Rules is a popular exposition of scholarly work on language. It succeeds in its aim of conveying a great deal of information in a lively and often humorous style.[^1] The book has a simple thesis, often repeated: The …

End of the Revolution

Almost three decades ago I reviewed in these pages a striking development in the study of language that I called “Chomsky’s Revolution in Linguistics.”[^1] After such a long time it would seem appropriate to assess the results of the revolution. This article is not by itself such an assessment, because …

I Married a Computer

Moore’s Law on Integrated Circuits was first formulated by Gordon Moore, former head of Intel, in the mid-Sixties. I have seen different versions of it, but the basic idea is that better chip technology will produce an exponential increase in computer power. Every two years you get twice as much …

Consciousness & the Philosophers

Traditionally in the philosophy of mind there is supposed to be a basic distinction between dualists, who think there are two fundamentally different kinds of phenomena in the world, minds and bodies, and monists, who think that the world is made of only one kind of stuff. Dualists divide into …

The Mystery of Consciousness: Part II

Can we find a convincing account of how brain processes cause—or even could cause—our conscious experiences? That is the question I raised in the previous issue.[^*] It is differently addressed in all the books under review, and indeed some of the writers do not think the relation of brain to …

The Mystery of Consciousness

The most important problem in the biological sciences is one that until quite recently many scientists did not regard as a suitable subject for scientific investigation at all. It is this: How exactly do neurobiological processes in the brain cause consciousness? The enormous variety of stimuli that affect us—for example, …

The Storm Over the University

I cannot recall a time when American education was not in a “crisis.” We have lived through Sputnik (when we were “falling behind the Russians”), through the era of “Johnny can’t read,” and through the upheavals of the Sixties. Now a good many books are telling us that the university …