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The Emperor’s New MindConcerning Computers, Minds, and The Laws of Physics$
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Roger Penrose and Martin Gardner

Print publication date: 1989

Print ISBN-13: 9780198519737

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198519737.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 17 January 2022

Where Lies the Physics of Mind?

Where Lies the Physics of Mind?

Chapter:
(p.523) 10 Where Lies the Physics of Mind?
Source:
The Emperor’s New Mind
Author(s):

Roger Penrose

Martin Gardner

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780198519737.003.0018

In discussions of the mind-body problem, there are two separate issues on which attention is commonly focused: ‘How is it that a material object (a brain) can actually evoke consciousness?’; and, conversely; ‘How is it that a consciousness, by the action of its will, can actually influence the (apparently physically determined) motion of material objects?’ These are the passive and active aspects of the mind-body problem. It appears that we have, in ‘mind’ (or, rather, in ‘consciousness’), a non-material ‘thing’ that is, on the one hand, evoked by the material world and, on the other, can influence it. However, I shall prefer, in my preliminary discussions in this last chapter, to consider a somewhat different and perhaps more scientific question - which has relevance to both the active and passive problems - in the hope that our attempts at an answer may move us a little way towards an improved understanding of these age-old fundamental conundrums of philosophy. My question is: ‘What selective advantage does a consciousness confer on those who actually possess it?’ There are several implicit assumptions involved in phrasing the question in this way. First, there is the belief that consciousness is actually a scientifically describable ‘thing’. There is the assumption that this ‘thing’ actually ‘does something’ - and, moreover, that what it does is helpful to the creature possessing it, so that an otherwise equivalent creature, but without consciousness, would behave in some less effective way. On the other hand, one might believe that consciousness is merely a passive concomitant of the possession of a sufficiently elaborate control system and does not, in itself, actually ‘do’ anything. (This last would presumably be the view of the strong-AI supporters, for example.) Alternatively, perhaps there is some divine or mysterious purpose for the phenomenon of consciousness - possibly a teleological one not yet revealed to us - and any discussion of this phenomenon in terms merely of the ideas of natural selection would miss this ‘purpose’ completely.

Keywords:   animal consciousness, backwards masking, child's viewpoint, dendritic spines, free will, inspiration, judgemental thinking, language, musical composition

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