The mind-body problem, as it is called in Western philosophy, still has the attention of philosophers, despite centuries of debate. It will no doubt occupy more of philosophers time in the upcoming decades due to the resurging interest (and advances) in artificial intelligence. But the goal of most research in A.I. is now geared towards computational algorithms that are able to learn and can discover new knowledge or data patterns. The "hard A.I." problem, that of creating conscious machines, is not top priority it seems.
But philosophers will continue with the analysis of the nature of conscious intelligence, and the author is one of these. Interestingly though, and correctly, he asserts that progress in this analysis has been made, and he notes that philosophy has joined hands with psychology, artificial intelligence, neuroscience, ethology, and evolutionary theory in making this progress. And this will no doubt continue as advances in these fields are made, and the 21st century will see the advent of the "industrial philosopher". Once thought to be a purely academic profession, the ethical considerations behind genetic engineering and the legal rights of thinking machines will require the presence of philosophers in the rank and file of engineers, technicians, and managers. And because of this, these philosophers, and their coworkers will themselves have considerable knowledge outside their own field.
Again, the refreshing feature of this book is that the author believes that philosophy has made considerable process on the nature of mind. This was done, he says, by understanding the mind's self-knowledge, by providing a much clearer idea of the nature of the different theories of mind, and by clarifying the sorts of evidence that must be acquired in order to distinguish between these different theories. Empirical evidence, he states, has enabled the making of these distinctions much more rational and scientific. But he is careful to note that the evidence is still ambigious, and much work still needs to be done before the these ideas can be differentiated with more clarity. He discusses in detail the different theories of dualism and materialism. An entire chapter is devoted to discussing substance dualism, property dualism, philosophical behaviorism, reductive materialism, functionalism, and eliminative materialism. The author asks readers to start anew and throw away their convictions while analyzing these conceptions of mind and matter.
For the author, the mind-body problem cannot be solved without considering three problems: 1. Semantical: The meaning of ordinary common-sense terms for mental states. 2. Epistemological: The problem of other minds and the capacity for introspection. 3. Methodological: The proper methodology to use in constructing a theory of mind. Entire chapters are devoted to these, and after reading them the reader entering the debate on the mind-body problem for the first time will have an over-abundance of food for thought.
An entire chapter is spent on the topic of artificial intelligence. If this book were updated, this chapter would probably have to be considerably expanded, in that many advances have been made in A.I. since this book was first published. Research in A.I. has been rocky, and many promises that were unfullfilled were made in the past about it. But now it seems a more rational and realistic attitude is taken about the claims of A.I. Most everyone involved in it understands that it is an enormously complex problem, and have concentrated their efforts on building intelligent machines from a piece-meal, microscopic approach, i.e. from solving the simplest problems first before tackling the more difficult ones.
A chapter is also devoted to neuroscience. Thanks to imaging technologies and other approaches to mapping the brain, this field has mushroomed in recent years. The author only gives a cursory overview of the brain and the nervous system in this chapter, due no doubt to lack of space. The reverse engineering of the human brain has been pointed to by some researchers in artificial intelligence as being the best hope for building intelligent machines. The dramatic increases in chip technology and bus design have made this belief certainly more feasible. It remains to be seen, via actual empirical research, whether the reverse engineering of the human brain, and then its subsequent implementation in electronic devices, will indeed result in the rise of intelligent machines.
Whatever the future of artificial intelligence and neuroscience, the mind-body problem will no doubt be of interest to philosophers for decades to come. It will be fascinating to see what kinds of conceptual frameworks and methodologies will be employed in attempts to solve this problem. Without doubt some new ideas would be welcome in this regard, as proposals for solutions to the mind-body problem seem to be stuck in a local minimum. But, as the author argues well for, the solution will bring in many areas and possibly some radical ideas, all supported by painstaking experimentation.