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Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Brain, Consciousness, and Computers

I am currently reading The Mystery of Consciousness by John R. Searle. In Chapter 1, “Consciousness as a Biological Problem,” Searle explains how brain research can proceed to solve the problem of consciousness. Here’s an excerpt:
The brain is an organ like any other; it is an organic machine. Consciousness is caused by lower-level neuronal processes in the brain and is itself a feature of the brain. Because it is a feature that emerges from certain neuronal activities, we can think of it as an “emergent property” of the brain. An emergent property of a system is one that is causally explained by the behavior of the elements of the system; but it is not a property of any individual elements and it cannot be explained simply as a summation of the properties of the elements. The liquidity of water is a good example: the behavior of the H2O molecules explains liquidity but the individual molecules are not liquid. 
Computers play the same role in studying the brain that they play in any other discipline. They are immensely useful devices for stimulating brain processes. But the simulation of mental states is no more a mental state than the simulation of an explosion is itself an explosion. 
Searle rejects the theory that the mind can be seen as a computer program running on brain’s hardware (a position that he calls Strong AI). However, he is of the view that computers can be a useful tool for doing simulations of the mind (he calls this position Weak AI).

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