The Mystery of Mind

Week of: 
January 11, 2005
What is it: 

Modern science tells us that the mind is just the brain working. But science cannot yet tell us how consciousness, rationality, free will, autonomy, or even our sense of self arises out of the merely material processes of the brain. Could our confidence that mind is just the brain working possibly be misplaced? John and Ken delve into the mystery of the mind with UC Berkeley philosopher John Searle.

Listening Notes: 

The brain is just a bunch of neurons and some people say that the mind is the same as the brain. There are two things about minds that are mysterious: thought and experience. To help with these mysteries, Ken introduces the guest, John Searle, professor at Berkeley. Intentionality is the property of the mind that directs it at things in the world. We think and talk about the world all the time. How is this even possible? Is the brain the source of all our conscious states? 

There are two general problems: consciousness and intentionality, or subjectivity and aboutness. Searle thinks the two problems are connected. Are feeling pain and being conscious of pain the same thing? Behaviorism tried to explain the mind by saying all conscious states are propensities to some sort of behavior. The computational theory says that all thought is just neurons doing computations and running algorithms. 

If thoughts are brain states, shouldn't we be able to see each other's thoughts? Is there a distinction between the mental world and the physical world? How do we align our neuroscientific theories with our everyday experience? Searle points out three views to avoid: extreme materialism, extreme idealism, and dualism. Is the belief that the mind is just the brain damaging to our self-conception? Searle thinks not since the brain is capable of providing all these amazing sensations and experiences.

  • Roving Philosophical Report (Seek to 04:19): Amy Standen interviews an Episcopal priest and former scientist about the relation between the brain and the mind. 
  • Conundrum (Seek to 46:28): Emily from Oregon asks who bears the responsibility for an action when both parties are potentially at blame? Amy did not tightly screw the cap back onto a jug of orange juice. Then, Matt, her fiancé, shook the jug without checking it and orange juice went everywhere. Who is at fault for the spill?

John Searle, Mills Professor of the Philosophy of Mind and Language, University of California Berkeley

Related Resources: 
  • Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  • G.E.M. Anscombe's book on intentionality, Intention 

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