30 August 2011

Descartes was never a dog owner

Craig's Spring Branch Blog has been in hiatus for a couple months while I was occupied with other stuff.

I stumbled onto an amazing web page yesterday: anotherpanacea. It is the weblog of Joshua Miller, a philosophy teacher at George Washington University. I have only read a couple of the entries so far, but the one that amazed me was plucked out of the ether for me doing a google search:

How to get a philosophical education for free.

This is a compilation of the best of the online courses, podcasts and so on which the kind Mr. Miller promises us will give us a close approximation of what his students get in exchange for paying GWU 50 000 dollars a year. And I got right to work this morning listening to the first lecture of John Searle's UCBerkeley course Philosophy of Mind.

There are 32 lectures, each 80 minutes in length from Searle's spring 2010 version of Philosophy 132, Philosophy of Mind. The first lecture was mostly Descartes. I am already familiar with most of this material. As a matter of fact, I took a class from John Searle many years ago in which the first week was Descartes. Nevertheless I took three pages of dense notes and I learned a number of interesting things.

  • They still use blue books for exams at Cal!
  • There is at least one lecture hall that still uses chalkboards!
  • There is a clan labeled mysterians--what they do is they promote the idea that human consciousness is so complex that explaining it will never be accomplished.
  • Beyond monism, dualism there is at least one guy (Eccles) who has promoted trialism. (Beyond the mind and the body the third part of the trialism is the culture, a la' Minsky's Society of Minds.)
But the most interesting parts to me were actually a couple of answers to student questions:

Where does the subconscious go? In the mind or in the body?
  • For Descartes there is no such thing as a subconscious mind. Mind == conscious thoughts and that is it.
Do animals have minds?
  • Absolutely not for Descartes. Animals do not have conscious thoughts and are entirely mechanical contraptions. Clearly, Descartes was not a dog owner.
Also it was pretty cool to see that Searle seems to be carrying his age very well. He sounded quick and lively and I am pretty sure it would have been even more fun to sit there in the class than it was to listen to the audio file on my computer. It will be interesting to see if I can maintain my current enthusiasm for 31 * 80 = 2480 more minutes 41 more hours. At the moment I think it will be worth it.

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About Craig

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Houston, Texas, United States
I have been living in the lovely neighborhood of Spring Branch in the great city of Houston since late in 2005. I started out with the idea of making this blog about my life in this neighborhood. That did not last long. Right now I am posting every five days on the alternating topics of literature, philosophy, psychology, and metaphysics. This project has been ongoing since July 27, 2010 and I believe it will continue for at least a few more months.