Friday, March 28, 2014

Interesting interview with John Searle

In my part of the intellectual woods he's perhaps best known for his Chinese room thought experiment, which has always struck me as being beside the point. Here's his quick gloss on it:
Well, in this particular case I imagined what it would be like if I followed a program for answering questions in Chinese and giving back answers in Chinese, even though I don’t understand a word of Chinese. And that was a very useful thought experiment because it enables us to see that computation by itself isn’t thinking.

On consciousness:
Consciousness is a biological property like digestion or photosynthesis. Now why isn’t that screamingly obvious to anybody who’s had any education? And I think the answer is these twin traditions. On the one hand there’s God, the soul and immortality that says it’s really not part of the physical world, and then there is the almost as bad tradition of scientific materialism that says it’s not a part of the physical world. They both make the same mistake, they refuse to take consciousness on its own terms as a biological phenomenon like digestion, or photosynthesis, or mitosis, or miosis, or any other biological phenomenon.

Other contemporary philosophy doesn't much interest him, but he likes fiction:
I don’t read much philosophy, it upsets me when I read the nonsense written by my contemporaries, the theory of extended mind makes me want to throw up…so mostly I read works of fiction and history. I love reading history books and I love reading works of fiction, there’s just an enormous amount of great stuff written.

Faulkner, the great American modernists, I can’t tell you the influence they’ve had on me. No philosopher has influenced me as much as Hemingway, Faulkner and Fitzgerald – they’ve had an enormous influence on my whole sensibility – and the whole American modernist tradition. There are so many great history books and great novels, not to mention poetry and other forms of literature, that I spend much more time on literature than I do on philosophy. I’m not boasting about that, I’m complaining, I probably should read more philosophy than I do. But I think a lot of works of philosophy are like root-canal work, you just think you’ve got to get through that damn thing.
On the history of philosophy:
Now, I admire the history of philosophy, but not for the right reasons. I don’t think I learnt a lot of truths from reading Leibniz or Kant. I think Leibniz was probably the most intelligent person who ever lived, but I think his philosophical views are probably pretty much mistaken. I mean, the bit about the monads and so on. Kant was probably the greatest philosopher that ever lived and he is an obsession, but I think the whole thing is based on a mistake – that you can’t have a direct knowledge of things in themselves. You can. I’m looking at a desk and I see a thing in itself.
Read the full interview at NewPhilosopher.

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