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"Ever since David Hume declared in the 18th century that the Self is only a heap of perceptions, the poor Ego has been in a shaky conditions indeed...Mind and consciousness becomes dispensable items in our accounts of reality, ghosts in the bodily machine...Yet there are indications here and there that the tide may be tuming...and the appearance of The Mind's I, edited by Douglas R. Hofstadter and Daniel C. Dennett, seems a welcome sign of change.'—William Barrett, The New York Times Book Review
Posted April 30, 2005
This is a followup to Hofstadter´s famous Godel, Escher, Bach (1980)(see my review). Like its predecessor, it is concerned mostly with the foundations of artificial intelligence, but it is composed mostly of stories, essays and extracts from a wide range of people, with a few essays by DH and DD and comments to all of the contributions by one or the other of them. Much of it is very reductionistic in tone(ie, explain everything in terms of physics/math) but as Hofstadter notes, the quantum field equations of a water molecule are too complex to solve(and so is a vacuum)and nobody has a clue about how to explain the way properties emerge(eg, water properties from H2 and 02) as you go up the scale from the vacuum to the brain, so reductionism, like holism, requires a great deal of faith. There is not only the uncertainty principle, and chaos(eg, no way to predict how a pile of sand will fall) but the logically necessary incompleteness of math, which is now fused at the highest levels with physics(eg, string theory). Godels incompleteness theorem was a central theme of his first book. This is really a psychology text, though perhaps none of the authors realized it. It is about human behavior and reasoning¿about why we think and act the way we do. But(like all such discussion until recently) none of the explanations are really explanations. Nobody discusses the mental mechanisms involved. In fact, like most ´explanations` of behavior the texts here and the comments by DH and DD are often more interesting for what kinds of things they accept as explanations(and omit), than for the actual content. As with all reasoning and explaining one now wants to know which of the brains inference engines are activated to produce the authors biases and results. It is the relevance filters which determine what sorts of things we can accept as appropriate data for each engine and their automatic and unconscious operation and interaction that determines what we can accept as an answer. Cognitive and evolutionary psychology are still not evolved enough to provide full explanations but an interesting start has been made. Boyer´s `Religion Explained` shows what a modern scientific explanation of human behavior looks like. Pinker´s `How the mind Works` is a good general survey. See several of the recent texts(ie, 2004 onwards) with evolutionary psychology in the title or the web for further info. We now recognize that art,music,math,language and religion are all results of the automatic functioning of the inference engines. This is why we can expect similarities and puzzles and inconsistencies or incompleteness and often, dead ends. The brain has no general intelligence but numerous specialized modules or inference engines, each of which works on certain aspects of some problem and the results are then added. Hofstadter, like everyone, can only generate or recognize explanations that are consistent with the operations of his own inference engines, which were evolved to deal with such things as resource accumulation, coalitions in small groups, social exchanges and the evaluation of the intentions of other persons. It is amazing they can produce art or music or math and not surprising that figuring out how they themselves work together to produce overall intelligence or consciousness or choice is way beyond reach even 25 years later. The article on Turing (and many others) left me thinking- ´Oh where is Wittgenstein when we need him!´ Turing attended W´s lectures on the foundations of math but he does not seem to have understood them(not surprising as almost nobody else did). As W so famously said, decades before this book was written--`Philosophy is the battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by language`(or we miWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 30, 2000
Being an engineer, it's not very common to make a stop to think about philosophical issues as self, soul and self-perception. However, not only the articles about artificial intelligence and simulation (Turing) but also the poetical fiction of Borges and Lem, trap you into an enlightening spiral of self-consciousness and discovering. Denett and Hofstadter made a wonderful job synthesising and giving fluidity to an otherwise complex -and possibly unrelated- set of knowledge.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.