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The Mystery Of Consciousness

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  596 Ratings  ·  33 Reviews
It has long been one of the most fundamental problems of philosophy, and it is now, John Searle writes, "the most important problem in the biological sciences": What is consciousness? Is my inner awareness of myself something separate from my body?

In what began as a series of essays in The New York Review of Books, John Searle evaluates the positions on consciousness of su
Published November 12th 1998 by Granta Books (first published 1990)
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Robert Fischer
This book is not for a beginner in the Philosophy of Mind. For that, you want Searle's Mind: A Brief Introduction. That said, as someone who entered into this book cynical about materialism, I think this book should be subtitled, "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Brain".

This is a superb book for a couple different reasons. First of all, it presents a fascinating exploration of the problems in cognitive science (at least the philosophical subset) by looking over a number of key texts i
Andrew Russell
Jul 09, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: philosophy
I give Searle credit for recognizing that there is no current explanation or understanding of how consciousness works. However, despite this lack of explanation in the physical realm he goes on to state the wonderfully outdated Cartesian ideas that have increasingly hindered rather than helped this understanding. I think that arguing along the lines of 'we will never have a third-person understanding of consciousness because consciousness is simply a first-person experience' and that neuroscienc ...more
This is an overview and critique of mid-1990s thinking about the issue of consciousness. I read the 1997 edition which updates the 1990 edition, and includes some exchanges between Searle and people critiqued in the book.

Searle has his own ideas and measures others against them. If you're familiar with Dennett, Penrose, Edelman, Crick and their theories of consciousness, you'll find the book a fairly easy read. If they're all new to you, you may have to grapple a bit. While Searle defines terms
Adih Respati
Aug 05, 2007 rated it really liked it
Philosopher John R. Searle is known for his strong disagreement toward the idea of strong AI --that human thought is merely computational. I myself, having much exposed to individuals such as neuroscientist Francis Crick, computer scientist Marvin Minksy, and cognitivist Steven Pinker (and the likes), believe that biology and mathematics are two places to start in understanding completely human thoughts. In The Mystery of Consciousness Searle is debating human thought explorer --Kurt Godel, Dani ...more
Andrew Stott
Mar 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
I think John searle has delivered the best book on this subject here. His search for a causal explanation of consciousness and against reductionism (claims consciouness cannot be reduced) seems to me to be the right path for making a dent in this problem of all problems. He takes on Dan Dennett head on and I am currently reading Dennett for his side. If you are at all interested in the phenomenon of the mind and consciousness you must read this. I read it twice.
Jun 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a delightful, down-to-earth overview of the philosophy of consciousness. Searle's writing is refreshingly clear. He manages to get at how weird the problem is without succumbing to the temptation to be overly flowery or metaphorical. (Not that there's anything wrong with being flowery and metaphorical when it comes to consciousness; indeed, the subject practically begs for poetry. It's just maybe not the best philosophical approach.)

Don't let the publication date of 1997 put you off. For
Jon Stout
Mar 26, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: philosophy
Like Minds Brains and Science 1984 Reith Lectures, which I read earlier, Searle's collection of essays is a good survey of current positions. Searle offers six critiques of other prominent philosophers of consciousness, and the ones that interested me most were those of Daniel Dennett and Roger Penrose.

I read about half of Dennett's Consciousness Explained and quit in disgust, because I thought his reductivist effort to substitute behavioral paraphrases for features of consciousness amounted to
Feb 16, 2017 rated it liked it
This was a remarkably quick read for how difficult I expected it to be. Basically, Searle is critiquing other authors' books on the nature of consciousness. I wasn't 100% convinced by all of his arguments and am interested in reading some of the books he reviewe
Eric Chevlen
Feb 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
In "The Mystery of Consciousness" philosopher John Rogers Searle reviews several modern theories to explain how it is that the objective brain gives rise to (or is associated with) the subjective sense of consciousness. He does an effective job of showing the weaknesses of those theories. However, his own theory fares no better. He repeatedly postulates that brain CAUSES consciousness, which seems to both beg and evade the question. After having read the book, I was more appreciative of the titl ...more
Oct 15, 2012 rated it it was ok
Searle disarms/attacks several consciousness thinkers in the field including Francis Crick, Roger Penrose, Gerald Edelman, Daniel Dennett, David Chalmers and Israel Rosenfield.

Searle's main thesis is that consciousness is a biological function like photosynthesis or digestion, but offers no further explanation of its working. I am discouraged by his disagreement with materialism and functionalism because I believe brain function contains elements of these two philosophies.

Incidentally, I hold th
Jun 26, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Searle provides a helpful introduction to various contemporary approaches to philosophical accounts of the mind. I, furthermore, find his arguments both practical and cogent--indeed, admitting the biological facticity of consciousness avoids many anxieties concerning free will and even subjectivity that theories such as Dennett's might give rise to. I do wish, however, that this volume, composed already of various publications, would feature more lengthy excerpts of other philosopher's work (tha ...more
Jan 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
I liked this much better than Daniel Dennett's Consciousness Explained which I read at the same time. Searle I think gives us a much more "professional" work which reads like it could be a textbook. Dennett uses way too many metaphors and clever wordplay and takes a while to spit out his position, which to me is eliminative materialism, or consciousness is a trick. Searle engages those who don't agree with him and publishes some of his exchanges. Searle's position is biological naturalism, that ...more
Feb 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
The strength of this book is that it is based on his critiques of several other authors with different positions so that the reader is exposed via comparison to the fundamentals in the debates raging in the philosophy of mind. Searle's attack on Dennett is highly convincing, even after reading Dennett's reply. On the other hand his attack on Chisholm, particularly with his reply, doesn't seem to stick. Searle's own position appears reasonable, I think, mostly due to its vagueness. Yes, the mind ...more
Kyle Blanchard
Dec 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
As a casual reader of ideas of consciousness, this was my first real foray into the topic. It's a great one if you have a decent grasp of different consciousness ideas - but still complex enough to feel challenged and pursue outside research / a few re-reading of pages. I'd recommend taking the time to grasp each of the concepts explained. It's a fascinating topic and worth the time. I especially enjoyed Searle's inclusion of rebuttals to his own arguments, with his follow-up. Sometimes I found ...more
Oct 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I highly recommend this book for the informed reader. Of course, it is not an exact, up-to-date, account of the neuroscientific, cognitive scientific, bio-chemical, and neurophilosophical research. BUT, but, but, specifically, it reviews plenty of still-up-to-debate issues regarding both the scientific and philosophical issues surrounding consciousness and its prose is surprisingly engaging and informative, both for any interested reader and researcher. Yerp.
Joseph Sverker
This is a very good introduction to the field written by an authority. The problem, which many people have already commented on, is that Searle dosn't seem to be terribly fair against when presenting the views. I particularly get a a feeling that this is the case with Penrose and Chalmers. I want to read their books and see what I think after that. The book is otherwise well written and not too long, so an ideal introductory work.
May 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
Clear and illustrative summary of all the most current and disparate theories of consciousness going from the one who says where to find it to those who deny it totally. For the people interested in the subject.

Chiaro ed esemplificativo riassunto di tutte le piú attuali e disparate teorie della coscienza: passando da chi la afferma a chi la nega totalmente. Per gli addetti ai lavori ed interessati all'argomento.
Aug 07, 2012 added it
The book collects essays, or, better, reviews of other people's books.
By definition, it is a rather fragmentary work that fails to provide an organic view of Searle's theory of consciousness (his "biological naturalism").
His views on Artificial Intelligence are more obscure than ever.

"Future generations, I suspect, will wonder why it took us so long in the twentieth century to see the centrality of consciousness in the understanding of our very existence".(Quote)
Rick Edwards
Jul 24, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Searle, who teaches philosophy at U Cal Berkeley, has written extensively on philosophy of language and of the mind. This is a collection of essays originally published in The N.Y. Review of Books examining the work of others in the field. Searle works hard -- and well -- at exposing confusion in the thinking of others.
A good overview of some contemporary theories of consciousness from the creator of the "Chinese room" argument. Searle spends more time poking holes in other people's theories rather than defending his own, but I appreciated that he didn't make too many grand claims and kept things pretty grounded. I found the discussions on AI and computation especially interesting.
Kyle Callahan
Nov 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy, science
A relatively easy read, given the subject matter. Searle provides a survey of some of the major theories of consciousness (in the 1990s), and provides his analysis of each position. I didn't always agree with his analysis, but for anyone interested in the topic, this small book is a decent place to start.
Deniz Cem Önduygu
Good summaries of other people's theories, mostly unsuccessful attempts to refute them, with unnecessary repetition of his own idea(s). Nevertheless, I greatly enjoyed the book on account of the direct exchanges between Searle and the people he reviews; it was like watching philosophers/scientists become quarreling old ladies – a glimpse into the backstage of the consciousness scene.
Scarlett Sims
This was a remarkably quick read for how difficult I expected it to be. Basically, Searle is critiquing other authors' books on the nature of consciousness. I wasn't 100% convinced by all of his arguments and am interested in reading some of the books he reviewed. Definitely a good overview/jumping off point.
Grasped in Thought
A very entertaining compilation of John Searle's critical reviews of several prominent authors' books on consciousness. The best, and funniest, was the exchange between Dan Dennett and Searle (it got a bit petty). Searle gives a rather thorough critique of Roger Penrose's argument against Weak AI.
Samantha Quick
Oct 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
If you're not reading this for a class, humble yourself a little and google some of the terms and experiments to give yourself some background information or none of it will make any sense at all. It's short, but dense.
Logan Plonski
Oct 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
This was my first foray into philosophy of the mind, and it really opened my eyes to a whole new world. A world where ultra-educated men spend all day reading each other's books and having brutal arguments with each other in the pages of academic journals.
zero last
Jul 27, 2011 rated it liked it
It's a good intro to consciousness.
Pablo Stafforini
Oct 08, 2008 rated it liked it
One-sentence summary: Consciousness is a natural, biological phenomenon, as much a part of our biological life as digestion, growth, and photosynthesis.
Christina "6 word reviewer" Lake
Brilliant takedown of "consciousness explained" idiocy.
Sep 02, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: philosophy
A survey and evaluation of the Theories of Consciousness. Good for an introduction to consciousness. But I prefer the neurobiological approach to the philosophical one.
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John Rogers Searle (born July 31, 1932 in Denver, Colorado) is an American philosopher and the Slusser Professor of Philosophy and Mills Professor of Philosophy of Mind and Language at the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley). Widely noted for his contributions to the philosophy of language, philosophy of mind and social philosophy, he was the first tenured professor to join the Free S ...more
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