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Discussion Questions

  • 1. What feature does Searle note is essential to consciousness? Why do you suppose he asks us to begin our investigation of consciousness from our individual point of view?
  • 2. Searle notes that materialists struggle with consciousness and experience, and often leave experience out of their accounts. What is the difficulty they are facing?
  • 3. How does Searle argue there is something right about both materialism and dualism? What features of these views does he favor, and why?
  • 4. What does it mean to say that consciousness is causally, but not ontologically, reducible to brain processes?
  • 5. Is there a mysterious explanatory gap between matter and consciousness? Searle argues there is no such gap. How does he support this position? Is his reasoning convincing?
  • 6. Can consciousness be explained through event causation? Why does Searle reject causal accounts of consciousness in this form?
  • 7. What does Searle mean by claiming that consciousness is caused by, and realized in, the brain? Why does he introduce the “realized in” part, and what explanatory purpose does it serve?
  • 8. Why does Searle emphasize that possible future explanations of consciousness must be causal? Doesn’t everyone agree that valid explanations of consciousness must be causal?
  • 9. What is the difference between the building block theory and the field theory of consciousness? Why does Searle prefer the field theory?
  • 10. Searle holds that consciousness is a causally emergent brain feature. What does this mean? Suppose someone said the term “emergence” doesn’t explain anything. How might Searle respond?
  • 11. In Searle’s view, consciousness is caused bottom-up by microlevel brain processes. However, he also argues there is top-down causation, enabling the larger conscious system to act back on the micro level. How might he respond if someone challenged him and said that this involves too many causes and that the only genuinely causal level is the micro level?
  • 12. In Searle’s view, we experience gaps in intentional action. What are they, and why are they important for Searle in accounting for the possibility of free will?
  • 13. Most materialists rule out the possibility of us having genuine free will, but Searle doesn’t. On the contrary—Searle speculates that free will could be realized in the brain as a system feature. He also brings in the idea that our universe is nondeterministic at the quantum level, to further explain his position. How does he tie these things together to argue for the possibility of free will?
  • 14. How might Searle respond to someone who said he is a materialist because he claims mental processes are physical? Does this make him a materialist? Why, or why not?
  • 15. Is Searle a dualist? Searle holds that you cannot reduce experiences to third- person-observable physical processes. Does this make him a dualist? How might he respond?
  • 16. If Searle is open to the possibility of building a conscious machine someday, why does he reject strong artificial intelligence?
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