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am 24. März 2000
First, what this book is not: It is not "creation science"...it doesn't address evolution...or the existence of God...or existence of the human soul. In other words, it is NOT special pleading against modern science by someone with a religious agenda. What it IS rather, is a solid study of cognition, theories of artificial intelligence, and the enduring problem of the nature of human consciousness by one of the world's top physicists (a professed materialist by the way, not a religious believer), who together with Stephen Hawking developed the astrophysics of "black holes" in the '60's. What Penrose suggests here (a theory he expands on in his subsequent "Shadows of the Mind"), is that science, and specifically physics, is inadequate now, and more importantly will always be inadequate, to describe the nature of human intelligence, cognition, and consciousness--a thesis similar to the showing of Godel's 1931 Theorem that certain fundamental axioms of mathematics were incapable of proof within any mathematical system. In other words, Penrose suggests that there are elemental restrictions within science itself limiting our understanding of our own mental processes, which concomitantly limit the possibilities for development of artificial intelligence. And that obviously doesn't sit well with those for whom naturalistic science is itself a kind of "religion," as some of the dismissive reviews on this page show. My advice: just ignore them and read this book, and well as its successor, "Shadows of the Mind." It's a challenging read and not for intellectual lightweights, but it will richly reward those with the patience to make it through.
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am 10. August 2013
being almost TOTALLY antithetic to penrose's views (regarding consciousness) i nevertheless deeply enjoy his writings. and this book is his masterpiece - whatever wrong conclusions he draws finally. ;-)
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am 18. Mai 2000
Penrose is inviting the reader to a weekend fishing expedition. He hopes to catch a whopper and get a group snapshot -- refutation of hard AI. The bait he offers is rather strange: quasicrystaline analogy of dendritic spine growth and contraction; a Platonic, timeless world of mathematical truth; something he calls CQG (Correct Quantum Gravity) with its one graviton criterion and two quantum processes he calls U and R. If you swallow this strange bait then you are hooked and don't blame anyone else when you wake up sizzling in frying pan oil.
On the plus side Penrose throws caution to the wind in trying to pin down the ever elusive human consciousness. He constructs for the reader a mental mirror in which to view the Tower of Babel world of Artificial Intelligence. However, in trying to use the child's view metaphor positively he makes the mistake of rattling off a string of "whys" that can never be answered. Setting up the mind-body dichotomy in any form presents only a chicken-egg question. If consciousness is located in the reticular formation of the brain, why there? As to memory -- just because the sound of music can be stored on magnetic tape, the sounds replayed are only virtual or copycat sound from the real, live orchestra. The brain may be merely a recording device and consciousness only a playback of this recording.
Penrose is very puzzled and perplexed that his geometrically formulated ideas don't translate well into words. Penrose laments that consciousness may not possess the active skills (free will) and is left with merely a spectator role. His speculations lead the reader into the quantum vacuum foam, to a head full of constantly emerging sub-quantum singularities or submicro-wormholes, framing human consciousness as a model for the mind of a deity. Amen.
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am 3. September 1998
There are two central themes to this book - first, a rejection of strong AI as a theory of consciousness, and second, the conjecture that the failure is related to the philosophical problems of quantum theory.
The first is very lucidly argued and does NOT, in the words of one frustrated (but clearly lazy) reviewer rely on some wishy-washy claim that the real world is too complicated for a computer to "understand". Nor has it anything to do with an appreciation of beauty.
Instead, it relies of Godel's theorem, which states that propositions can be true but non-algorithmic (non-provable by algorithm). Penrose claims that these same truths can nonetheless be grasped (and understood to be true) by human minds.
The second theme - the relationship of the failure of AI to quantum theory - is conjectural but fascinating.
I urge people to make the effort to read this book, by one of the great mathematical physicists of the post-war era.
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am 2. Oktober 1997
I found the book to actually be more interesting in its discussion of physics and quantum mechanics than when I got to his thesis on mind and the computational impossibility of reproducing it in a computer. Although most of this is lucidly written and meticulous in its attention to detail, Penrose's final conclusion that the mind must have a quantum-mechanical aspect is unsupported by any evidence and seems to come from nowhere but his own deep desire to be more than chemicals. For me, the weakest part of the argument (in fact the only "evidence" he gives for his conclusion, really!) is the discussion of how long it takes a computer algorithm to solve a particular type of problem vs. how long it takes a person. It seems plausible, but ignores the fact that in this world, thousands of people work in parallel and cooperatively over many years to solve difficult problems and build on previous successes and failures. It ignores the roles of specialized education, folk knowledge, anecdotal evidence and how all of these result in common-sense elimination of fruitless pathways and recognition of fruitful pathways in human problem-solving.
Nevertheless, I found his physics primer (the first several chapters) to be better than many I have read, and the whole book gave me many nights of weird dreams. At the end, though, I wound up disappointed and feeling like I had been hoodwinked into someone's attempt to logically deduce his own personal faith.
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am 14. Januar 1997
This book, together with its companion Shadows of the Mind, is the
result of many years thought by one of Britain's most original scientific
thinkers. It contains a fantastic sweep through classical and quantum
physics as well as Godel's theorem, Turing machines, and the like.
His conclusion - the mind is not governed purely by algorithmic processes -
is highly unpopular with many philosophers and the AI community. However it
is very carefully argued and apart from anything else makes a significant
contribution by laying out in a very clear way the logical options
available in understanding aspects of how the mind might compute.
Many of those working on understanding the mind do not want to be told
they will have to get deeply involved in quantum mechanical issues
before they will get anywhere near their goal. However Penrose makes
a profound argument that this is in fact the case
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am 9. Juni 2000
I can't say enough for this book. Whether or not you agree with Penrose's idea that science will never be enough to grasp human consciousness or not, this book is a fascinating journey into Quantum Physics, Godel's Incompleteness Theorem and a good time to evaluate your own thoughts on human consciousness based on logic and science rather than a spiritual approach regardless of your feelings on Penrose's postulations.
I must give a word of caution to a would-be reader, this is not a book for someone not willing to get through some technical stuff. If you only want to be spoon-feed an opinion without understanding HOW the opinion was formed, this is not the book for you.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
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am 7. November 1999
Roger Penrose sets out to refute the claims of those researchers in artificial intelligence and cognitive neuroscience who claim that the mind is a product of algorithmic processes. Penrose uses ideas from the theory of computation, and Godel's incompleteness theorem to attempt to show that algorithmic processes cannot be used to explain the diversity of human consciousness. Fine so far. But the book has a fatal flaw and it is this: it is rubbish (and speculative rubbish at that) from top to bottom. The incompleteness theorem has NOTHING WHATEVER to say about human consciousness. For an excellent discussion of the incompleteness theorem, see Barrow's 'Impossibility'. I would also recommend Daniel Dennett's 'Darwin's Dangerous Idea' for a further refutation of Penrose's position, and Steven Pinker's 'How the Mind Works' for an exposition of the algorithmic theory of mind. Penrose sets up a straw man and then knocks it down.
To come up with a spurious claim about the capabilities of the human mind and then set out a completely new (and frankly untestable) theory about how mystical quantum-mechanical effects give rise to entirely new problem solving techniques is not even science. It's the worst sort of 'Just-So Story' that those attacking algorithmic theories of consciousness are always accusing AI researchers et al. of peddling. Penrose has done himself a grave disservice with this nonsense. Recent work has all but ruled out his ideas about micro-tubules (and even if there was something fishy going on there, the self-same microtubules exist in the brains of cockroaches). The fact that incompleteness is only of significance in an algorithmic system that is incapable of error seems to have passed him by.
In short: not even close - definitely no cigar.
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am 27. März 1999
While parts of this book devoted to the popular description of concepts of modern physics and mathematics hold a pedagogical value for a lay reader, the rest of the book is really poor. The author makes an extremely loose connections between completely unconnected problems, and with surprising immodesty puts forward an extremely contrived theory of mind without providing any semblance of logic, let alone proof. For any scientist familiar with both quantum mechanics and some basic knowledge of biology of the CNS, the main thesis of the book that consciousness is somehow connected to the quantum mechanics of the brain function should certainly look ridiculous; it's a completely arbitrary connection, and no proof is even suggested. The author in effect attempts to employ a very cheap trick to solve two of the greatest problems of modern science and philosophy, the problem of consciousness and the problem of (apparent) ambiguities in the formulation of quantum physics, by deciding to cancel them against each other, linking them with an arbitrary mental construction. How convenient! The suggestion that Godel's theorem proves that human thought is non-algorithmic is laughable; while the theorem is one of the greatest achievements of modern logic, it is only relevant for symbol-based computation, and our brain certainly isn't a purely symbol-manipulating machine: most neural-network computations are not based on applying symbolic rules, although they can be implicitly algorithmic. Besides, to suggest that humans can never encounter a statement that can be neither proved nor disproved is almost humorous in its arrogance: the problem of consciousness alone holds lots of such examples; problems of ethics is another great example. Penrose's argument will only be applicable when we discover a theory of everything and there will be no philosophical questions left to be solved for humanity; only in that case one could say that there are no contradictory statements for a human mind. ...I could go on and on, but this is too long already. I personally find it fascinating that an undoubtedly talented scientist like Penrose, one of the greatest mathematicians of our times, can come up with something as absurd. I guess this can teach the rest of us something about how the human brain works, after all...
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am 11. Januar 1999
Penrose's text should be seen as a two fold effort: the first is pedagogical: it exposes with superb insight the theories of mathematical physics, the physical basis of computation theory (he draws on an analogy with geometry), as well as, a Platonic philosophy of mathematics (the present reviewer believes in a naturalistic approach, but that is hardly the matter here!). IF this was all in the book one could hardly give it less than five stars. However, Penrose goes further and discusses the biology of cognition; in my opinion at this point he is a bit out of his personal scientific experience and contributions, and his thoughts are speculative; the further involment of cosmology in the work makes the whole project a bit incoherent. Overall Penrose connects cosmology with biology of cognition through the key theory of quantum gravity which he speculates ties them together!; well for those who like to study science and not mere speculations these mean that they shall not enjoy some parts of the book! The other central theme, that quantum gravity is nonalgorithmic, and thus since (as he speculates) cognition is a quantum-gravitational phenomenon it should be also nonalgorithmic, it is of course a consistent conception, but again science requires more than that, it requires ways to test ideas and in my opinion Penrose offers none! But after all perhaps he did not intented to write down a science book.
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