Goodbye, Descartes: The End of Logic and the Search for a New Cosmology of the Mind / Edition 1

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Overview

"[Goodbye, Descartes] is certain to attract attention and controversy..a fascinating journey to the edges of logical thinking and beyond." -Publishers Weekly (???) Critical Acclaim for Keith Devlin's Previous Book Mathematics: The Science of Patterns "A book such as this belongs in the personal library of everyone interested in learning about some of the most subtle and profound works of the human spirit." -American Scientist "Devlin's very attractive book is a well-written attempt to explain mathematics to educated nonmathematicians . the basic ideas are presented in a clear, concise, and easily understood manner. Highly recommended." -Choice "[Devlin] has found an interesting way of exhibiting how mathematics is unified . the author's presentation is a tour de force." -Mathematical Reviews A Selection of the Newbridge Library of Science and Reader's Subscription

In a narrative that travels from ancient times to today, Keith Devlin shows how the concept of the mind as a logic machine developed and came to be so widely accepted. He also shows how efforts to use logic to create "thinking machines" have failed miserably and why those failures demonstrate that no machine would ever think the way the human mind does. 320 pp. National ads & publicity. 15,000 print..

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In a wide-ranging exploration of the limits of scientific and mathematical thought, Devlin (Mathematics: The Science of Patterns), a mathematician and senior researcher at Stanford University's Center for the Study of Language and Communication, is certain to attract attention-and controversy-with his claim that scientific logic, as exemplified by the philosophy of Descartes, will never enable us to understand the human mind. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is bound to fail, he asserts, for its goal of machine intelligence is an impossible one. Furthermore, he argues, Noam Chomsky's field of Cartesian linguistics is similarly flawed. Though the structure of a human language, like a computer language, can be analyzed in terms of syntactic rules, understanding human communication requires "four key features... that were explicitly ignored in Chomsky's logic-inspired analysis of language: meaning, context, cultural knowledge, [and] the structure of conversation." Given his perceived failure of AI and Chomsky's linguistics, Devlin asks, "what are the possibilities of a science of mind and language, and what kind of a theory should we be looking for?" The answer, he claims, is a "soft mathematics" that does not yet exist but will emerge as an established branch of the field. Readers must grapple with the text and be prepared to argue with the author with Talmudic fervor. AI experts will dispute Devlin's definition of their field and its objectives. Scientists or mathematicians will fill the margins with questions and comments. In the end, whether or not readers have joined Devlin in saying, "Goodbye, Descartes," they will have experienced a fascinating journey to the edges of logical thinking and beyond. (Jan.)
Library Journal
After years of effort to create a computer that can really think, many workers in the field of artificial intelligence are now beginning to concede it may be impossible. Mathematician and science writer Devlin believes that this is because the computer is a logic machine, and rational thought and human communication involve mental processes that go beyond logic. To convince us, he takes us on a tour of traditional logic, mathematical logic, modern linguistics, congitive science, and theories of communication and information. He concludes with a plea for the development of a new branch of mathematics-soft mathematics-designed to deal with those areas of science that do not fit the traditional paradigm of the hard sciences. An excellent book that should be read by everyone who has ever wondered how we communicate with one another but find it so frustrating to interact with computers.-Harold D. Shane, Baruch Coll., CUNY
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780471251866
  • Publisher: Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 3/19/1998
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 9.21 (w) x 6.14 (h) x 0.66 (d)

Meet the Author

Keith  Devlin
KEITH DEVLIN, Ph.D., is a mathematician and the Dean of the School of Science of St. Mary's College. He is also the Senior Researcher at Stanford University's Center for the Study of Language and Communication. He is the author of Life by the Numbers (Wiley), Mathematics: The New Golden Age, and Mathematics: The Science of Patterns.

Biography

Odds are, John Grisham doesn’t get interview questions like this: "If you could meet any mathematician, who would it be?"

But author Keith Devlin does, this time from Discover magazine as part of a January 2001 article coinciding with the publication of his book The Math Gene: How Mathematical Thinking Evolved and Why Numbers Are Like Gossip. His answer may go a long way toward explaining why he has managed to make the world of numbers not only understandable but also enjoyable to a segment of the population that can’t balance a checkbook without a net -- or backup from MIT.

“Isaac Newton,” Devlin told the inquiring minds at Discover. “He was a quarrelsome, egotistical person, but he also invented calculus. He did it, by the way, when he was a student at Cambridge. The Great Plague was going on, so the university was closed, and young Newton found himself without studies to do. Most 20-year-olds would think, ‘Whoopee! I’ll just have a good time.’ Newton went home and invented calculus.”

It is this same kind of passion for mathematics that has enabled Devlin, now the executive director of the Center for the Study of Language and Information at Stanford University, to persuade readers that arithmetic, geometry and calculus can be a bracing addition to the stack on the bedside table. In The Math Gene, he explains the “innate sense of number” that lives inside the human mind and how the development of mathematical thinking is closely bound to the development of language. In Goodbye, Descartes: The End of Logic and the Search for a New Cosmology of the Mind, he argues against the possibility of artificial intelligence, saying that computers are simply logic machines that cannot replicate the rational thought and communication that are part of human smarts. In his newest book, The Millennium Problems: The Seven Greatest Unsolved Mathematical Puzzles of Our Time, he explains a historic competition announced by a Cambridge, Massachusetts foundation in 2000: Anyone who could solve any one of seven of the most perplexing math problems of the current age would win $1 million.

In a 1999 review, the Economist noted that “Devlin succeeds both in giving us a glimpse of the internal beauty of the subject and in demonstrating its usefulness in the external world. The Language of Mathematics is lucidly written and richly illustrated, and remains accessible and enthusiastic throughout.”

On NPR’s Weekend Edition, where he has become a regular guest, Devlin is referred to simply as “The Math Guy,” or as host Scott Simon once put it “our white knight of the world of mathematics.”

And, going back to that provocative subtitle in The Math Gene, just how is math like gossip? “Mathematicians deal with a collection of objects -- numbers, triangles, groups, fields -- and ask questions like: ‘What is the relationship between Objects X and Y?. If X does this to Y, what will Y do back to X?’” he told Discover. “It's got plot, it's got characters, it's got relationships between them, and it's got life and emotion and passion and love and hate, a bit of everything you can find in a soap opera. On the other hand, a soap opera isn't going to get you to the moon and back. Mathematics can.”

Just don’t forget to carry the 1.

Good To Know

Devlin was the coauthor of the television special A Mathematical Mystery Tour, broadcast as part of the Nova series in 1984.

He once offered as proof of the human brain’s intuitive math skills the ability to judge speed and distance while driving and the ability to add up bowling scores.

Devlin once managed to explain the mathematical difference between a knot and a tangle to National Public Radio’s listeners.

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    1. Hometown:
      Palo Alto, California
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 16, 1947
    2. Place of Birth:
      Hull, England
    1. Education:
      B.S., King's College, London, 1968; Ph.D., University of Bristol, 1971

Table of Contents

Patterns of Mind.

A Passion for Order.

The Laws of Thought.

From Symbols to Silicon.

The Science of Language.

Language in the Mind.

Machines that Think.

Communication Is the Key.

Verbal Tangos.

The Cheshire Cat's Grin.

Goodbye, Descartes.

Selected Further Reading.

Index.

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