The Rediscovery of the Mind

by John R. Searle

the MIT Press, Cambridge, 1992


The title of The Rediscovery of the Mind suggests the question "When was the mind lost?" Since most people may not be aware that it ever was lost, we must also then ask "Who lost it?" It was lost, of course, only by philosophers, by certain philosophers. This passed unnoticed by society at large. The "rediscovery" is also likely to pass unnoticed. But has the mind been rediscovered by the same philosophers who "lost" it? Probably not. John Searle is an analytic philosopher, with some of the same notions as the positivists and behaviorists who rejected consciousness and "lost" the mind in the first place, but he also does not sound like the kind of reductionist who would have joined that crowd. His views, indeed, are sensible enough, and some of his insights so important, that it is a shame to find his thought profoundly limited by some of the same mistakes and prejudices that ruined philosophy, and not just philosophy of mind, under the influence of those positivists and behaviorists. There is enough of genuine value in his treatment, that it can easily be taken up and, with relatively slight modification, added to what is of permanent value in the history of philosophy.

Searle calls his theory of mind "biological naturalism." This expression is revealing, mainly for the nature of the limitations of the theory. Both terms, as used by Searle, bespeak scientism -- the view that knowledge basically means science. "Naturalism," as it happens, is all the rage in intellectual circles that seek to dismiss religion, transcendence, metaphysics, and even knowledge, rationality, and science itself. In philosophy also, it can involve the rejection of knowledge, since Wittgenstein's naturalism reduces even science to word game behaviors that do not refer to objects and are not justified by facts. Quine's naturalism has some similar effects. However, Searle's naturalism, with a critique of Wittgenstein, Quine, and others, is less extreme and is of a sort that will tend to accept the value, even the supreme value, of science. This impression is reinforced by the term "biological," which invokes an actual science (biology). Searle, as a matter of fact, is really a materialist, but does not use the term ["I reject materialism..." p. 28], since it tends to imply the sort of reductionistic materialism that he doesn't like. Instead, he believes that consciousness and mental life are real, but that they are simply caused by biological, neurological, and so physical processes. I would call this a kind of epiphenomenalism, but Searle himself seems to use that term for something less ontologically robust.

The evidence of Searle's scientism and materialism is worth noting. He does not necessarily even exclude his own use of the term "materialism," since we have, "One can be a 'thoroughgoing materialist' and not in any way deny the existence of (subjective, internal, intrinsic, often conscious) mental phenomena" [p. 54]. It is as a materialist that he says [p. 27],

But nowadays, as far as I can tell, no one believes in the existence of immortal spiritual substances except on religious grounds. To my knowledge, there are no purely philosophical or scientific motivations for accepting the existence of immortal mental substances.

This is a rather astonishing statement. Are there no Thomists? But perhaps the philosophical arguments of Thomism are so transparently motivated by religion, for Searle, that their philosophical significance, or even existence, can be dismissed. But "purely philosophical...motivations" casts a wider net. Kant provides plenty of philosophical space for the soul, even if the positive philosophical motivation is only a moral one. Why this does not qualify in Searle's universe is curious.

...one can accept the obvious facts of physics -- for example, that the world is made up entirely of physical particles in fields of force... [p. 28]

This is, indeed, Searle's world, maybe not atoms and the void, but particles and fields. Even the existence of consciousness does not compromise this ontology -- an ontology that Kant would consider "transcendental realism" (Searle's "world" is certainly "things in general"), and that takes "particles," "fields," "force," and even "physical" as metaphysically unproblematic. That particles may be unextended, that fields are either "virtual" particles or curved space:  these curious features raise metaphysical questions in which there are no "obvious facts of physics."

There are unlikely to be "scientific motivations" or "obvious facts of physics" for belief in the soul, unless one takes parapsychology seriously (some do). Since Kant, one would hardly expect science to do that, but then Searle may not see philosophy as providing for forms of knowledge apart from science.

We get something similar later on [p. 90],

Our problem is not that somehow we have failed to come up with a convincing proof of the existence of God or that the hypothesis of an afterlife remains in serious doubt, it is rather that in our deepest reflections we cannot take such opinions seriously.

Speak for yourself, John. Give me a break. So who is the "we" here? Clearly it is the elite community of naturalistic sceptics and the analytic philosophers who don't take traditional metaphysics, or religion, very seriously. It is only they who are allowed "our" deepest reflections.

When we encounter people who claim [?!] to believe such things, we may envy them the comfort and security they claim [?!] to derive from these beliefs, but at bottom we remain convinced that either they have not heard the news or they are in the grip of faith. [pp. 90-91]

"Heard the news"? Is science, then, founded on such epistemic certainty that sensible persons must simply jump up and salute when the "news" is announced, perhaps with the sort of editorial or royal "we" that Searle uses? When people only "claim" to believe in God or derive comfort from religion, why is it that the "we" who "remain convinced" do not have merely a "claim" also? Clearly because the community of science, the touchstone of knowledge for the positivists, which builds television sets, atom bombs, and computers, doesn't fit stuff like souls and God into science, at least in any way that Searle notices -- the occasional theistic scientist evidently doesn't count. That anyone should believe in God or religion on faith, without any need for a connection to science, is something beyond the Searle's Pale -- despite several venerable philosophical theories (Thomism and Kant again) that distinguish between matters of knowledge and matters of faith.

And my insensitivity [to claims of past life memories in India] was much more than mere cultural provincialism: Given what I know about how the world works, I could not regard their views as serious candidates for truth. [p. 91]

Even if, for the sake of argument, Searle knows through science about "how the world works," does this mean that he also knows about the ultimate nature of things, the truths of being and value, with enough certainty to justify the arrogance and dismissive attitude that he has? Only if science is also metaphysics and axiology and answers all metaphysical questions about matter and cosmology, ethics and aesthetics. Clearly it is not. Hasn't Searle gotten "the news" that science, with an empirical and experimental method, cannot answer questions of being or value? The Logical Positivists could justify their own arrogant certainties because they had a theory that could dismiss metaphysics and ethics themselves as nonsense. No metaphysics, no problem. Only science is left. But Searle is not this kind of positivist. The metaphysical questions about matter and cosmology, and the value questions about ethics and aesthetics, are not dismissed by him, just overlooked, and science is left in possession of the field by a default that is philosophically unmotivated. Without that motivation, Searle does actually suffer from "cultural provincialism" -- the cultural provincialism of a secular intellectual, Berkeley college professor.

This complacent, arrogant, and narrow attitude, however, does not ruin the value of Searle's theory, or his book. The lack of metaphysics is redeemed by the phenomenology. Consciousness is, in Searle's own way, "naturalized"; but it is still there, along with other mental phenomena, like meaning, and this already is a bitter pill for most recent analytic philosophy. Searle does an excellent job, as he often does with common sense issues, in exposing the reductionism of most philosophy of mind, or "how much of mainstream philosophy of mind of the past fifty years seems obviously false" [p. 3].

Though perhaps most of the discussions in the philosophical literature concern the "technical" objections, in fact it is the commonsense objections that are the most embarrassing. The absurdity of behaviorism lies in the fact that it denies the existence of any inner mental states in addition to external behavior... And this, we know, runs dead counter to our ordinary experiences of what it is like to be a human being. [p. 35]

Many theories that reject the existence of consciousness and internal phenomena often don't even want to actually say so. "Authors who are about to say something that sounds silly very seldom come right out and say it" [p. 5]. Searle details "Six Unlikely Theories of Mind" [pp. 5-7]. He immediately proceeds to an extremely important issue which has been distorted because of these theories, that, in the ordinary sense of the term, meaning does not exist,

...there just aren't any facts of the matter in addition to patterns of verbal behavior. On this view, most famously held by Quine (1960), there just isn't any fact of the matter about whether when you or I say "rabbit" we mean rabbit, undetached part of a rabbit, or stage in the life history of the rabbit. [p. 8]

Since being aware of definite meaning for terms and propositions is an internal state, and the elimination of consciousness leaves only external behavior, philosophers like Quine cannot locate the meaning that would determine interpretation or translation. So we have Quine's famous "indeterminacy of translation" thesis, which has more recently led to the non-existence of definite meaning and truth in deconstruction. A similar critique of Quine has been made by Jerrold Katz, and I have examined elsewhere the trouble that Benson Mates gets into with the Nominalism that goes with all this.

Searle then examines the "foundations" of materialism and its origins. Most of this is unobjectionable, but we do have revealing statements occasionally.

At the most extreme, some philosophers are reluctant to admit the existence of consciousness because they fail to see that the mental state of consciousness is just an ordinary biological, that is, physical, feature of the brain. Perhaps even more exasperatingly, they are aided in this error by those philosophers who cheerfully acknowledge the existence of consciousness and in so doing suppose they must be asserting the existence of something nonphysical. [p. 13]

Now, it would be nice to know who the philosophers are who "cheerfully acknowledge" the existence of something nonphysical, since they would not then fit into the "we" Searle uses later to deny that philosophical theories exist for "mental substances" or God. But more interesting here is the assertion, as though it is a matter of obviousness or common sense, that consciousness is just a physical feature of the brain. Well, it is if matter is ontologically fundamental. Materialists may be afraid of consciousness because the existence of consciousness has always, from the Upanishads to Descartes to Kant to Schopenhauer, been taken as the clue that reality is more complicated than the materialists make it out. And whatever happened to Berkeley? The eponymous philosopher of Searle's own University exposed materialism as a metaphysical theory unsupported by experience -- something we all might know from the history of philosophy, where the materialism of Democritus derived from the rationalistic ontology of Parmenides, not from some common sense intuition about the world.

Searle in an important sense suffers from the same fault as those materialists he criticizes. He has a fundamentally externalist ontology, as I have examined in "Ontological Undecidability." Searle characterizes the kind of materialism he rejects as a "view of the world as completely objective," without the subjective aspect of the inner states of consciousness. But "objective" and "subjective" are not the best terms for what Searle is talking about, since they have more epistemic than ontological overtones, with "objective" meaning "based on facts" and "subjective" the opposite. "External" and "internal" are better, with few epistemic overtones at all. One place where Searle does use "external" is with respect to "naturalistic (externalist, causal) accounts of content" [p. 50]. Such accounts are indeed ontologically externalist. He also uses the term "internal" as roughly equivalent to "subjective":  "subjective, internal, intrinsic..." [p. 54]. Searle allows that the internal exists, but it is caused by and is part of the external order. The internal cannot exist without the external. The materialism that Searle rejects tends, overtly or covertly, to reject the existence of the internal altogether. It would be a reductive externalism. Searle has a non-reductive externalism, but it is still an externalism.

The logical possibilities in this respect are displayed in a square of opposition at right. Varieties of internalism are less common and seem more peculiar, though Berkeley and Hegelism are familiar enough. Searle himself may reject being characterized as a "inclusive externalism" since it may sound like the sort of "property dualism" that he rejects. But whether it is called "dualism" or not, this is pretty much what we get. What this square doesn't admit is the kind of theory we find in Spinoza, which certainly is a kind of "property dualism," but where neither internal (thought) nor external (extension) are ontologically ultimate. What Spinoza really has is a kind of undecidability. For him, neither internal nor external fundamentally characterize substance or existence. Neither is caused by or an epiphenomenon of the other. Merely given internal or external, there is thus not sufficient reason to prefer one over the other. What is ultimate in Spinoza is the substance, God, of which internal and external are among an infinite number of other attributes equally essential to God.

Kantian phenomenalism is also a version of undecidability, since empirical objects are merely appearances in consciousness, but consciousness does not existence independently but itself is an artifact of the representation of those objects. Thus, there are no phenomena without consciousness, and no consciousness without phenomena. Unlike Spinoza, we do not know in Kant in what way consciousness and objects stand to ultimate reality, i.e. things in themselves, except that the soul is a "postulate of practical reason."

Searle is content with "the obvious facts of physics," but the fact is that science simply cannot deal with the truths of being and value, of metaphysics and ethics, since an empirical (observational, experimental) method bears with it an externalist bias. Thinking that any "facts of physics" answer basic ontological questions is the essence of scientism. The reductive materialists and the behaviorists take that the most seriously. Searle merely notes that eliminating consciousness violates common sense, which it does. Epistemicly, what contradicts exclusive externalism is introspection. Searle, curiously, denies that there is introspection. "Are conscious mental states known by a special capacity, the capacity for introspecting?" [p.141] Searle answers no. His argument goes this way:

Though I can easily observe another person, I cannot observe his or her subjectivity. And worse yet, I cannot observe my own subjectivity, for any observation that I might care to make is itself that which was supposed to be observed. [p.99]

And,

There could not be [introspection], because the model of specting into requires a distinction between the object spected and the specting of it, and we cannot make this distinction for conscious states. [p.144]

This seems to prove too much, for it could be said to prove that we cannot be aware that we are conscious at all, or that subjectivity even exists. If I cannot observe another's subjectivity, and cannot observe my own, then subjectivity is immune from any observation and must be hidden from knowledge. The argument is actually a version of the argument of the Upanishads, accepted by Schopenhauer, that the subject cannot know itself except as an object, since the subject will still be doing the knowing. However, Searle's version of the argument is wrong, since mental contents can always be "spected" merely by being reproduced, which automatically makes them an object distinct from the present knowing subject. I cannot observe the observation making that observation, but I can observe any observation I have made previously. A new observation takes as an object the previous subjective state of observation. Anything can be made an object of consciousness, the Upanishadic claim was just that the subject qua subject, qua Knower, is still present at every act of objectification.

The meaning of "introspection" that is simple and essential is our ability to recognize and report on subjective (i.e. internal) states and contents. Without this, Searle is forced into exclusive externalism, since we would be unable to know what is internal. He is also forced into some false and confused statements:

Furthermore, once you get rid of the idea that consciousness is a stuff that is the "object" of introspection, it is easy to see that it is spatial, because it is located in the brain. [p.105]

OK, John, what then is the spatial relationship between your memories of John F. Kennedy and those of Lyndon B. Johnson? Searle can very properly answer that he doesn't know because this is a matter for presently undone scientific research ("an extremely tricky neurophysiological question," p.105). However, Searle is aware that he has memories (I presume) of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson; and (I presume) he can even begin to detail what those are; and, since he is not a behaviorist, he cannot say that he observes his memories only in the verbal behavior of their expression. So he must have some means of knowing that he has such memories, but he cannot locate them in space either qua memories or in relation to each other. That can only be done with new research on the (or his) brain. This is why Kant said that "inner sense" is only subject to time, not space. This is why St. Thomas said that the soul was a simple substance, i.e. without spatial parts. This is why Descartes said that the soul was unextended. And this is why Spinoza made thought an attribute, independent of extension, of God. All of these views were based on a simple, common sense observation to which Searle blinds himself on the basis of an idiosyncratic construction and rejection of "introspection." This was the sort of false move that "lost" the mind in the first place. Searle's conclusion is just an inference from his externalism, that is:  The brain is real; consciousness is in the brain; the brain is spatial; therefore consciousness is spatial.

Following this material is Chapter 5, "Reductionism and the Irreducibility of Consciousness," which is basically sound and unobjectionable -- Searle at his best. Much the same can be said of Chapter 6, "The Structure of Consciousness: An Introduction," except for a reiteration of the objections to introspection (pp.143-144). The chapter ends with an excellent discussion of the mistaken idea that knowledge of subjective states is incorrigible. However, where Searle may wish to affirm fallibility because of the non-existence of introspection, it is really an artifact of all mediate, i.e. conceptual, knowledge, but Searle is unlikely to make a Friesian distinction between immediate and mediate knowledge.

Searle's theory of the unconscious in Chapter 7 -- that it is meaningless to talk about unconscious mental contents unless it is, in principle, possible for them to become conscious -- is reasonable enough, but not really of central importance. We do get one very good line:  "Quine, we might say, has a theory of meaning appropriate for verbally behaving zombies" [p.164]. The following Chapter 8, however, "Consciousness, Intentionality, and the Background," is of supreme interest and importance, one of the most important features of the book.

The thesis of the Background is simply this: Intentional phenomena such as meanings, understandings, interpretations, beliefs, desires, and experiences only function within a set of Background capacities that are not themselves intentional. Another way to state this thesis is to say that all representation, whether in language, thought, or experience, only succeeds in representing given a set of nonrepresentational capacities. In my technical jargon, intentional phenomena only determine conditions of satisfaction relative to a set of capacities that are not themselves intentional. Thus, the same intentional state can determine different conditions of satisfaction, given different Background capacities, and an intentional state will determine no conditions of satisfaction unless it is applied relative to an appropriate Background [pp.175-176]

This is a theory of such importance that it would render Searle's book valuable even if all the rest was worthless. It is important to keep in mind why Searle proposes such a theory. This is his answer to the skeptical assaults of the likes of Quine and Wittgenstein, which were essentially against the existence of intentionality, representation, and the internal/subjective nature of meaning. Quine's problem of the "indeterminacy of translation" has already been noted, that there are no "facts of the matter in addition to patterns of verbal behavior" [p.8]. Now Searle says,

...if you postulate a total break between literal meaning and Background, you would get a Kripke-Wittgenstein...style skepticism, because you would then be able to say anything and mean anything. [p.184]

Quine and Wittgenstein have naturalistic theories of meaning that, unlike Searle's, are essentially behavioristic -- exclusive externalism. What philosophers like Quine and Wittgeinstein got right, however, is the fact that verbal expressions underdetermine meaning, i.e. the number of ways that a given sentence could be misinterpreted is so great that, in their view, an interpretation or an assignment of meaning is something that doesn't even happen, because meaning in the traditional sense doesn't exist. Wittgenstein's formula was that "meaning is usage," which means that verbal behavior is the "meaning."

Searle is rather short on examples but does give one from Wittgenstein himself:

To think of the Background naively, think of Wittgeinstein's example of the picture of the man walking uphill. It could be interpreted as a man sliding backward downhill. Nothing internal to the picture, even construed as a pictorial representation of a man in that position, forces the interpretation we find natural. The idea of the Background is that what goes for the picture goes for intentionality in general. [p. 177]

Besides the lack of examples, there is also a lack of discussion of what the Background would be that determines the interpretation of something like the picture (e.g. that sliding backwards, although possible, is unusual, difficult, and dangerous and thus not a natural interpretation). However, this is intentional. Searle cannot detail the Background because part of the theory is that it cannot be detailed.

Suppose I go into the restaurant and order a meal. Suppose I say, speaking literally, "Bring me a steak with fried potatoes." Even though the utterance is meant and understood literally, the number of possible misinterpretations is strictly limitless. I take it for granted that they will not deliver the meal to my house, or to my place of work. I take it for granted that the steak will not be encased in concrete, or petrified. It will not be stuffed into my pockets or spread over my head. But none of these assumptions was made explicit in the literal utterance. The temptation is to think that I could make them fully explicit by simply adding them as further restrictions, making my original order more precise. But that is also a mistake. First, it is a mistake because there is no limit to the number of additions I would have to make to the original order to block possible misinterpretations, and second, each of the additions is itself subject to different interpretations. [p.180]

While Searle states flatly that the Background is not intentional (and so not representational), he seems to admit that there is nevertheless the possibility and the temptation to try and turn the Background into propositional conditions. He gives an example of this;

A good way to observe the Background is in cases of breakdown: An example will illustrate this. A visiting philosopher came to Berkeley and attended some seminars on the Background. He was unconvinced by the arguments. One day a small earthquake occurred. This convinced him because, as he later told me, he had not, prior to that moment, had a belief or a conviction or a hypothesis that the earth does not move; he had simply taken it for granted. The point is "taking something for granted" need not name an intentional state on all fours with believing and hypothesizing. [p.185]

While it possible to make explicit a Background factor like "The earth can move," Searle's point is just that a specification of these factors cannot be completed in a way that will avoid ambiguity and not need further specification. However, the possibility of the process is important. The Background is about matters of fact, about real things, and this could, in principle be turned into explicit statements, if we had an infinite capacity to do so. That we have a finite capacity to do some of it may be why it took philosophy two thousands years before it occurred to anyone that verbal expressions underdetermine meaning. Everyone always figured that if something was ambiguous, then you say something extra to clear it up. That a verbal statement might have some intrinsic failure of capacity to determine meaning seemed contrary to common sense. Thus, Searle says:

The suggestion, surely correct, is that sentence meaning, to at least some extent, underdetermines what the speaker says when he utters the sentence. Now, the claim I am making is: Sentence meaning radically underdetermines the content of what is said. [p.181]

What is going on in all this is actually something rather familiar. It is a case of the difference between abstract and concrete. Sentences express abstract features, but these are always in a context of other abstract features (what Searle calls the "Network") and in a much larger context of concrete meaning that, logically, could be rendered into an infinite number of abstract articulations. Searle must allow that we are aware of that concrete meaning, otherwise we would not be able to articulate or understand the sentences whose meaning depends on the Background. As such, his theory is conformable to the theory of "simultaneous" or "instantaneous" understanding in The Origin of Value in a Transcendent Function ("The Simultaneity of Understanding"). Simultaneous understanding is what enables us to know the meaning of an entire sentence even when we may be speaking or writing only a part of it at a time, and may not even have decided what the whole sentence is going to be. In hearing a sentence, simultaneous understanding does not occur until the whole meaning is understood, which may be near, at, or after the end, or even earlier, if the whole meaning can be guessed. Now, in terms of Searle's theory, simultaneous understanding does not just encompass the abstract features that are the meanings of the elements of the sentence, but it includes the context of meaning of both Network, which is learned through language, and Background, which is either learned covertly, like the notion above that the earth doesn't move, or is possessed a priori -- Friesian non-intuitive immediate knowledge would be part of the Background. Although Searle does not address the issue of a priori knowledge here, we do find an interesting statement in this chapter:

Differences in local Backgrounds make translation from one language to another difficult; the commonality of deep Background makes it possible at all. [p. 194]

"Deep background" sounds like universal "capacities" and matters of fact that could easily include the whole apparatus of Kantian categories or comparable matters in Friesian philosophy. The theory of the Background is thus a very important result of Searle's thought, however naturalistic or scientistic it may be as a whole, for Kant-Friesian philosophy.

Searle himself uses the term "instantaneous," in just the way described in The Origin of Value, in the context of a curious claim (boldface added):

From the fact that whenever one understands something, one understands it in a certain way and not in other ways, and from the fact that alternative interpretations are always possible, it simply does not follow that in all discourse one is engaged in constant "acts of interpretation." One's immediate, normal, instantaneous understanding of utterances is always possible only relative to a Background, but it does not follow from that that there is some separate logical step, some separate act of interpretation involved in normal undersanding. [p. 192]

Now, if "interpretation" simply means "to assign meaning" to a symbolic formula or object, then what Searle says is obviously false. Wittgenstein could say something of the sort since, where "meaning is usage," to use a sentence is for it already to have meaning. But Searle does distinguish between behavior and meaning, so this is not available to him. If "interpretation" means "to assign meaning by reflection or deliberation," then what Searle says is true, since "instantaneous" understanding is normally achieved without conscious act or effort. But he cannot say that there is no "logical step" involved here, since there clearly is a logical difference between a sentence read or heard without meaning, as in an unknown language, and one read or heard with meaning, and also between reading or hearing a sentence, which may be hard to understand or not understood through inattention, and the moment when understanding is a achieved. The frequent pause after the telling of a joke before someone "gets it" also involves a process that reveals the function of assigning meaning to sentences. These processes may be very quick and essentially preconscious, but they are certainly there, and may be drawn out into noticeable passages of thought.

Similar confusions seem involved when Searle says, "A similar mistake is made in those theories of cognition that claim that we must have made an inference if, when we look at one side of a tree, we know that the tree has a back side" [p.192]. Again, there is no inference in the sense of logical reflection, deliberation, and deduction. That solid objects have backs is something that everyone knows (probably a priori) as part of the Background. On the other hand, the undoubted processing that goes on, prereflectively, sometimes takes noticeable time and is the logical equivalent of inference. It even fits Searle's definition of the unconscious, because the processing can be consciously understood.

An example from my own personal experience, involving perceptual processing, involved a set of star charts, Deep Space 3-D, A Stereo Atlas of the Stars by David Chandler [La Verne, CA, 1977]. Each chart had two views of a section of the sky that, when viewed through a supplied stereopticon, enabled one to see the stars with depth added, giving a sense of which stars are close and which are distant. Unlike most 3-D pictures, however, there was a minimum of visual information on these charts, just white dots on a black background. For at least a couple of days I could not "see" the 3-D images, despite using all the tricks of such viewers (move around, back and forth, focus & unfocus, cross and uncross the eyes, etc.). Then, about ready to give up and accept that this was not going to work for me, the sense of depth suddenly sprang into the image and I could see the "stars" at different distances. Now, this was not an inference in any ordinary reflective sense, but it was also clear that my brain was busy trying to "interpret" the binocular images and to "infer" the apparent distances of the "stars" from the displacement of the dots in the images. "Interpret" and "infer" are natural terms to use by analogy for the neurological process both by analogy and because we understand how flat images can be visually interpreted as three dimensional (when they are, of course, not so literally) and how the two sets of visual data allow for the inference that different dots are at different distances.

Searle's desire to distinguish spontaneous mental acts from reflective ones can be well taken, but he seems to overlook some of the familiar and common sense reasons why the two got confused in the first place. He may go too far because of a concern to avoid attributing to the external brain the kind of intentional, internal states that only belong to consciousness. It would be bad for his externalism if external objects, as such, could be characterized with internal attributes. This might imply some kind of dualism, which Searle stoutly rejects.

In the present section, Searle's final disclaimer is that, "The Background is emphatically not a system of rules" [p. 193]. That this must be true follows if the Background is concrete and rules are abstractions. That the Background can be, in part, rendered into some rules also follows when we accept that cognitively relevant characteristics of the Background can be abstractly comprehended.

Searle's Chapter 9, the last chapter before his conclusion, is a stunning critique of the whole project of "cognitive science." Like the chapter on the Background, this also is very nearly worth the cost of the whole book. While Roger Penrose has ably gone after the "brain is a digital computer" thesis with some simple arguments from mathematics, Searle does the same with some basic philosophical considerations.

Because programs are defined purely formally or syntactically, and because minds have an intrinsic mental content, it follows immediately that the program by iself cannot constitute the mind. [p. 200]

In other words, since minds have a certain kind of material content, as I have considered elsewhere, and computer languages or programs are entirely formal, then it is a fairly trivial result that computers, just by having programs, are not minds.

The argument rests on the simple logical truth that syntax is not the same as, nor is it by itself sufficient, for semantics. [p. 200]

This is a point similar to that made by Jerrold Katz:  There are analytic truths (pace Quine) because words have meanings which can be unpacked and displayed in sentences, which then do just what Kant said:  predicate the meaning that is already in the subject. Katz would also agree that since meaning is one of the material contents of mind, and syntax alone is not sufficient for semantics, then syntax alone is not sufficient to create a mind.

Searle deals marvelously with the idea that anything can function as a computer, and so as a brain:

Computationally speaking, on this view, you can make a "brain" that functions just like yours and mine out of cats and mice and cheese or levers or water pipes or pigeons or anything else provided the two systems are in [Ned] Block's sense, "computationally equivalent." You would just need an awful lot of cats, or pigeons or water pipes, or whatever it might be. [p. 207]

Searle points out that, "nobody says you can make carburetors out of pigeons" [p.207]. The problem with pigeons is that they are not materially suitable, do not have the appropriate "physical effects," for use in automobile engines. To think that brains could be made out of anything that formally mimics a computer algorithm implies that the material constitutents of brains are irrelevant. But, what's worse, the "material" content of minds is internal, subjective, and intentional (Searle's italics here):

...because the really deep problem is that syntax is essentially an observer-relative notion. The multiple realizability of computationally equivalent processes in different physical media is not just a sign that the processes are abstract, but that they are not intrinsic to the system at all. They depend on an interpretation from outside. [p. 209]

In other words, syntax is only syntax from an intentional point of view, and this presupposes, and so cannot causally explain, minds (Searle's italics):

...notions such as computation, algorithm, and program do not name intrinsic physical features of systems. Computational states are not discovered within physics, they are assigned to the physics. [p. 210]

Assigned, that is, by intending minds. It is all as Searle says "observer relative." Because talk about syntax, computers, and programs always presupposes an observer, Searle says, "The Homunculus Fallacy is Endemic to Cognitivism" [p. 212]. Thus, if the brain is just a digital computer, it must actually be a digital computer with a "user," a little internal being (the homunuclus) to whom the intentionality can be attributed. The materialists and externalists against whom Searle argues would think that it is his theory (much less internalism or undecidability) that has the homunculus, but Searle can show that their use of the ideas of programs and syntax is what logically requires an observer, which they do not provide for (hence the disembodied presence of one). As Searle says, "And who is the user?" [p. 214].

There are other issues that arise in Searle's book (like his rejection of "universal grammar"), but this all should be sufficient for us to see the strengths and weaknesses, and the fundamental importance, of the work.


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