Home | Third Culture | Digerati | Reality Club

BROCKMAN: How do you differ from other people who have written about the mind, like Dan Dennett, John Searle, Noam Chomsky, Gerald Edelman, or Francis Crick?

PINKER: For starters, I place myself among those who think that you can't understand the mind only by looking directly at the brain. Neurons, neurotransmitters, and other hardware features are widely conserved across the animal kingdom, but species have very different cognitive and emotional lives. The difference comes from the ways in which hundreds of millions of neurons are wired together to process information. I see the brain as a kind of computer÷not like any commercial computer made of silicon, obviously, but as a device that achieves intelligence for some of the same reasons that a computer achieves intelligence, namely processing of information. That places me with Dennett and Chomsky (though the three of us disagree about much else), and in disagreement with people like Searle, who denies that the brain can be understood as an information-processor and insists it can only be understood in terms of physiology. Edelman and Crick would not state their views in terms as extreme as Searle's but they, too, are not entirely sympathetic to the computational theory of mind.

Like Dennett and Searle, but unlike Chomsky, I believe that natural selection is the key to explaining the structure of the mind÷that reverse-engineering in the light of natural selection is the key to answering why our thoughts and feelings are structured as they are.

I also believe that the mind is not made of Spam÷it has a complex, heterogeneous structure. It is composed of mental organs that are specialized to do different things, like seeing, controlling hands and feet, reasoning, language, social interaction, and social emotions. Just as the body is divided into physical organs, the mind is divided into mental organs. That puts me in agreement with Chomsky and against many neural network modelers, who hope that a single kind of neural network, if suitably trained, can accomplish every mental feat that we do. For similar reasons I disagree with the dominant position in modern intellectual life÷that our thoughts are socially constructed by how we were socialized as children, by media images, by role models, and by conditioning.


Previous | Page 1 2 3 4 5 | Next