Conversations on Mind, Matter, and Mathematics

Conversations on Mind, Matter, and Mathematics

by Jean-Pierre Changeux, Alain Connes M. B. (Trans.) Debevoise, Alain Connes
     
 
Do numbers and the other objects of mathematics enjoy a timeless existence independent of human minds, or are they the products of cerebral invention? Do we discover them, as Plato supposed and many others have believed since, or do we construct them? Does mathematics constitute a universal language that in principle would permit human beings to communicate with

Overview

Do numbers and the other objects of mathematics enjoy a timeless existence independent of human minds, or are they the products of cerebral invention? Do we discover them, as Plato supposed and many others have believed since, or do we construct them? Does mathematics constitute a universal language that in principle would permit human beings to communicate with extraterrestrial civilizations elsewhere in the universe, or is it merely an earthly language that owes its accidental existence to the peculiar evolution of neuronal networks in our brains? Does the physical world actually obey mathematical laws, or does it seem to conform to them simply because physicists have increasingly been able to make mathematical sense of it? Jean-Pierre Changeux, an internationally renowned neurobiologist, and Alain Connes, one of the most eminent living mathematicians, find themselves deeply divided by these questions.The problematic status of mathematical objects leads Changeux and Connes to the organization and function of the brain, the ways in which its embryonic and post-natal development influences the unfolding of mathematical reasoning and other kinds of thinking, and whether human intelligence can be simulated, modeled, or actually reproduced by mechanical means. The two men go on to pose ethical questions, inquiring into the natural foundations of morality and the possibility that it may have a neural basis underlying its social manifestations. This vivid record of profound disagreement and, at the same time, sincere search for mutual understanding, follows in the tradition of Poincar‚, Hadamard, and von Neumann in probing the limits of human experience and intellectual possibility. Why order should exist in the world at all, and why it should be comprehensible to human beings, is the question that lies at the heart of these remarkable dialogues.

Editorial Reviews

Brenda Grazis
An intriguing argument by mathematician Connes in this spirited conversation with neurobiologist Changeux is that a mathematical reality exists independently of the human mind. For example, he considers it improbable that the cosmic harmony of the Jovian satellites orbiting in consonance with Kepler's laws is a product of the human brain. Thus, although an understanding of the brain as a tool may lead to expanded knowledge, Connes denies that such understanding will alter mathematical reality. However, Changeux believes that the concept of an immutable mathematical reality is merely "the fascination that the created object exerts upon its creator," and he rejects the idea that a "totally organized mathematical system exists in nature waiting to be gradually discovered." Among various other fascinating ideas discussed is the role of the brain's limbic system in cognition, such as how the emotions aroused by a pleasurable hypothesis may serve as a guide to a solution.
New York Times Book Review
A stimulating and illuminating book. . . . Mr. Changeux and Mr. Connes might best be characterized by reviving an old term. They are natural philosophers, concerned with large questions about the world and our place in it, who confront those questions with intelligence and lively imagination.
— Philip Kitcher
Choice
A highly entertaining and erudite read, this conversation between two renowned scientists . . . is at all times informative, lively, and thought provoking. The reader is drawn into the argument and left pondering the issues well after the last page has been turned.
Nature
A delight to read, and highly informative.
— Keith Devlin
Times Literary Supplement
The record of an intellectual encounter between two of Franco's leading scientific figures. . . . The result is a smooth, easy-to-read representation of a protracted, interesting . . . exchange between Alain Connes, an eminent mathematician, . . . and Jean-Pierre Changeux, a distinguished biologist. . . .
— Brian Rotman
The New York Times Book Review
[The authors'] passion for discerning the truth about important issues and for formulating thoughts as precisely as possible shines through these conversations.... A stimulating and illuminating book.
— Philip Kitcher
The Times Higher Education Supplement
The original Socratic dialogues were artificially constructed to present a coherent view. The dialogue between Connes and Changeux is quite different. It is the recording of real-life arguments where the speakers are frequently at cross-purposes and operate in different planes. For the reader this can be irritating but it also encourages him to become involved and frame his own answers. . . .
— Sir Michael Atiyah
The New York Times Book Review - Philip Kitcher
A stimulating and illuminating book. . . . Mr. Changeux and Mr. Connes might best be characterized by reviving an old term. They are natural philosophers, concerned with large questions about the world and our place in it, who confront those questions with intelligence and lively imagination.
Sir; The Times Higher Education Supplement - Michael Atiyah
The original Socratic dialogues were artificially constructed to present a coherent view. The dialogue between Connes and Changeux is quite different. It is the recording of real-life arguments where the speakers are frequently at cross-purposes and operate in different planes. For the reader this can be irritating but it also encourages him to become involved and frame his own answers. . . .
Nature - Keith Devlin
A delight to read, and highly informative.
Times Literary Supplement - Brian Rotman
The record of an intellectual encounter between two of Franco's leading scientific figures. . . . The result is a smooth, easy-to-read representation of a protracted, interesting . . . exchange between Alain Connes, an eminent mathematician, . . . and Jean-Pierre Changeux, a distinguished biologist. . . .
The Times Higher Education Supplement - Sir Michael Atiyah
The original Socratic dialogues were artificially constructed to present a coherent view. The dialogue between Connes and Changeux is quite different. It is the recording of real-life arguments where the speakers are frequently at cross-purposes and operate in different planes. For the reader this can be irritating but it also encourages him to become involved and frame his own answers. . . .
From the Publisher
One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 1995

"[The authors'] passion for discerning the truth about important issues and for formulating thoughts as precisely as possible shines through these conversations.... A stimulating and illuminating book."—Philip Kitcher, The New York Times Book Review

"A stimulating and illuminating book. . . . Mr. Changeux and Mr. Connes might best be characterized by reviving an old term. They are natural philosophers, concerned with large questions about the world and our place in it, who confront those questions with intelligence and lively imagination."—Philip Kitcher, New York Times Book Review

"The original Socratic dialogues were artificially constructed to present a coherent view. The dialogue between Connes and Changeux is quite different. It is the recording of real-life arguments where the speakers are frequently at cross-purposes and operate in different planes. For the reader this can be irritating but it also encourages him to become involved and frame his own answers. . . . "—Sir Michael Atiyah, The Times Higher Education Supplement

"A highly entertaining and erudite read, this conversation between two renowned scientists . . . is at all times informative, lively, and thought provoking. The reader is drawn into the argument and left pondering the issues well after the last page has been turned."Choice

"A delight to read, and highly informative."—Keith Devlin,Nature

"The record of an intellectual encounter between two of Franco's leading scientific figures. . . . The result is a smooth, easy-to-read representation of a protracted, interesting . . . exchange between Alain Connes, an eminent mathematician, . . . and Jean-Pierre Changeux, a distinguished biologist."—Brian Rotman, Times Literary Supplement

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780691087597
Publisher:
Princeton University Press
Publication date:
04/17/1995
Pages:
240
Product dimensions:
5.89(w) x 8.87(h) x 0.94(d)

What People are saying about this

Jean-Claude Escaffit
The materialist neurobiologist and the philosopher establish a no-holds-barred dialogue, which has resulted in a captivating book: often demanding, but always free of jargon. This exceptional initiative should be a milestone in the history of ideas.
Jean-Claude Escaffit, "La Vie"
Kosslyn
This is not so much a book as a journey. Like all journeys, it is stimulating, widens one's horizons, and leaves one wishing one could stay longer. The reader is treated to an inside look at the workings of two great minds, and is privileged to enjoy their reflections on an unusually wide range of topics. This is not a book that narrowly focuses on mathematics or neuroscience; it is a set of deep insights and provocative speculations about the nature of reality and what we can know about it.
Stephen M. Kosslyn, Harvard University
White
There are so many 'points of intellectual light' within the framework of this magnificent book that one should take the opportunity to study each page with as much care as one would exercise in viewing a beautiful piece of crystal or examining a fine painting. The authors truly probe the very limits of human understanding. . . .
Robert J. White, M.D., Ph.D., "Commonweal"
David Ruelle
This book is a superb guide to the philosophical ambiguities and contradictions that lie beneath the surface of science. Looking at the world as though 'through a glass darkly,' Changeux and Connes wind up seeing apparently irreconcilable realities. Their debate is likely to become a classic.
David Ruelle, Institut des Hautes Etudes Scientifiques, Paris
Oliver Sacks
This wonderfully eloquent and playful colloquy of two brilliant minds gives new life to the old notion of Dialogue, a sadly forgotten form now.... I love this book!
Oliver Sacks, M.D
Gerard Badu
Two leading giants face off: the biologist Jean-Pierre Changeux, leading neuroscientist and author of Neuronal Man, and the philosopher Paul Ricoeur, eminent apostle of phenomenology and author of Living Metaphors. The two develop...a true exchange of ideas, breaking with the preemptory affirmations and unilateral critiques which have too often characterized relations between science and philosophy.
Gerard Badu, "Le Nouvel Observateur"
Yves Christen
A rich dialogue, insofar as the two men belong to divergent currents of thought. . .neither a sham exchange of blows nor an intellectual compromise on either side. . .This exchange constitutes the most successful exercise of its type. . .it throws the perspectives right open.
Yves Christen, "Nouveute"
Mountcastle
The concluding remarks on ethics, setting out the credo of the neuroscientist, are the highpoints of a quite remarkable book. I do not think this has ever been done in quite the same way. A brilliant performance.
Vernon B. Mountcastle, Johns Hopkins University
Roger Penrose
English-speaking readers can now benefit from the philosophical insights of two outstanding intellects—each a leader in his own field, each bringing his own distinctive perspective to deep and challenging issues. Conversations on Mind, Matter, and Mathematics is fascinating.
Leon Cooper
It is a privilege to be permitted to eavesdrop on this fascinating conversation between two gifted individuals: a conversation that is remarkable for its erudition and that puts some very old questions into a very modern context.
Leon Cooper, Nobel Laureate in Physics

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