Skip to main content

Minds, brains, and programs

  • John R. Searle (a1)

This article can be viewed as an attempt to explore the consequences of two propositions. (1) Intentionality in human beings (and animals) is a product of causal features of the brain. I assume this is an empirical fact about the actual causal relations between mental processes and brains. It says simply that certain brain processes are sufficient for intentionality. (2) Instantiating a computer program is never by itself a sufficient condition of intentionality. The main argument of this paper is directed at establishing this claim. The form of the argument is to show how a human agent could instantiate the program and still not have the relevant intentionality. These two propositions have the following consequences: (3) The explanation of how the brain produces intentionality cannot be that it does it by instantiating a computer program. This is a strict logical consequence of 1 and 2. (4) Any mechanism capable of producing intentionality must have causal powers equal to those of the brain. This is meant to be a trivial consequence of 1. (5) Any attempt literally to create intentionality artificially (strong AI) could not succeed just by designing programs but would have to duplicate the causal powers of the human brain. This follows from 2 and 4.

“Could a machine think?” On the argument advanced here only a machine could think, and only very special kinds of machines, namely brains and machines with internal causal powers equivalent to those of brains. And that is why strong AI has little to tell us about thinking, since it is not about machines but about programs, and no program by itself is sufficient for thinking.

Hide All
Anderson, J. (1980) Cognitive units. Paper presented at the Society for Philosophy and Psychology, Ann Arbor, Mich. [RCS]
Block, N. J. (1978) Troubles with functionalism. In: Minnesota studies in the philosophy of science, vol. 9, ed. Savage, C. W., Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. [NB, WGL]
Block, N. J. (forthcoming) Psychologism and behaviorism. Philosophical Review. [NB, WGL]
Bower, G. H.; Black, J. B., & Turner, T. J. (1979) Scripts in text comprehension and memory. Cognitive Psychology 11: 177220. [RCS]
Carroll, C. W. (1975) The great chess automaton. New York: Dover. [RP]
Cummins, R. (1977) Programs in the explanation of behavior. Philosophy of Science 44: 269–87. [JCM]
Dennett, D. C. (1969) Content and consciousness. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. [DD, TN]
Dennett, D. C. (1971) Intentional systems. Journal of Philosophy 68: 87106. [TN]
Dennett, D. C. (1972) Reply to Arbib and Gundérson. Paper presented at the Eastern Division meeting of the American Philosophical Association. Boston, Mass. [TN]
Dennett, D. C. (1975) Why the law of effect won't go away. Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior 5: 169–87. [NB]
Dennett, D. C. (1978) Brainstorms. Montgomery, Vt.: Bradford Books. [DD, AS]
Eccles, J. C. (1978) A critical appraisal of brain-mind theories. In: Cerebral correlates of conscious experiences, ed. Buser, P. A. and Rougeul-Buser, A., pp. 347–55. Amsterdam: North Holland. [JCE]
Dennett, D. C. (1979) The human mystery. Heidelberg: Springer Verlag. [JCE]
Fodor, J. A. (1968) The appeal to tacit knowledge in psychological explanation. Journal of Philosophy 65: 627–40. [NB]
Dennett, D. C. (1980) Methodological solopsism considered as a research strategy in cognitive psychology. The Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3:1. [NB, WGL, WES]
Freud, S. (1895) Project for a scientific psychology. In: The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud, vol. 1, ed. Strachey, J.. London: Hogarth Press, 1966. [JCM]
Frey, P. W. (1977) An introduction to computer chess. In: Chess skill in man and machine, ed. Frey, P. W.. New York, Heidelberg, Berlin: Springer-Verlag. [RP]
Fryer, D. M. & Marshall, J. C. (1979) The motives of Jacques de Vaucanson. Technology and Culture 20: 257–69. [JCM]
Gibson, J. J. (1966) The senses considered as perceptual systems. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. [TN]
Gibson, J. J. (1967) New reasons for realism. Synthese 17: 162–72. [TN]
Gibson, J. J. (1972) A theory of direct visual perception. In: The psychology of knowing ed. Royce, S. R. & Rozeboom, W. W.. New York: Gordon & Breach. [TN]
Graesser, A. C.; Gordon, S. E.; & Sawyer, J. D. (1979) Recognition memory for typical and atypical actions in scripted activities: tests for a script pointer and tag hypotheses. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 1: 319–32. [RCS]
Gruendel, J. (1980). Scripts and stories: a study of children's event narratives. Ph.D. dissertation, Yale University. [RCS]
Hanson, N. R. (1969) Perception and discovery. San Francisco: Freeman, Cooper. [DOW]
Hayes, P. J. (1977) In defence of logic. In: Proceedings of the 5th international joint conference on artificial intelligence, ed. Reddy, R.. Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press. [WES]
Hobbes, T. (1651) Leviathan. London: Willis. [JCM]
Hofstadter, D. R. (1979) Gödel, Escher, Bach. New York: Basic Books. [DOW]
Householder, F. W. (1962) On the uniqueness of semantic mapping. Word 18: 173–85. [JCM]
Huxley, T. H. (1874) On the hypothesis that animals are automata and its history. In: Collected Essays, vol. 1. London: Macmillan, 1893. [JCM]
Kolers, P. A. & Smythe, W. E. (1979) Images, symbols, and skills. Canadian Journal of Psychology 33: 158–84. [WES]
Kosslyn, S. M. & Shwartz, S. P. (1977) A simulation of visual imagery. Cognitive Science 1: 265–95. [WES]
Lenneberg, E. H. (1975) A neuropsychological comparison between man, chimpanzee and monkey. Neuropsychologia 13: 125. [JCE]
Libet, B. (1973) Electrical stimulation of cortex in human subjects and conscious sensory aspects. In: Handbook of sensory physiology, vol. II, ed. Iggo, A., pp. 743–90. New York: Springer-Verlag. [BL]
Libet, B., Wright, E. W. Jr, Feinstein, B., and Pearl, D. K. (1979) Subjective referral of the timing for a conscious sensory experience: a functional role for the somatosensory specific projection system in man. Brain 102:191222. [BL]
Longuet-Higgins, H. C. (1979) The perception of music. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 205:307–22. [JCM]
Lucas, J. R. (1961) Minds, machines, and Gödel. Philosophy 36:112127. [DRH]
Lycan, W. G. (forthcoming) Form, function, and feel. Journal of Philosophy. [NB, WGL]
McCarthy, J. (1979) Ascribing mental qualities to machines. In: Philosophical perspectives in artificial intelligence, ed. Ringle, M.. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press. [JM, JRS]
Marr, D. & Poggio, T. (1979) A computational theory of human stereo vision. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 204:301–28. [JCM]
Marshall, J. C. (1971) Can humans talk? In: Biological and social factors in psycholinguistics, ed. Morton, J.. London: Logos Press. [JCM]
Marshall, J. C. (1977) Minds, machines and metaphors. Social Studies of Science 7:475–88. [JCM]
Maxwell, G. (1976) Scientific results and the mind-brain issue. In: Consciousness and the brain, ed. Globus, G. G., Maxwell, G., & Savodnik, I.. New York: Plenum Press. [GM]
Maxwell, G. (1978) Rigid designators and mind-brain identity. In: Perception and cognition: Issues in the foundaions of psychology, Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science, vol. 9, ed. Savage, C. W.. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. [GM]
Mersenne, M. (1636) Harmonie universelle. Paris: Le Gras. [JCM]
Moor, J. H. (1978) Three myths of computer science. British Journal of the Philosophy of Science 29:213–22. [JCM]
Nagel, T. (1974) What is it like to be a bat? Philosophical Review 83:435–50. [GM]
Natsoulas, T. (1974) The subjective, experiential element in perception. Psychological Bulletin 81:611–31. [TN]
Natsoulas, T. (1977) On perceptual aboutness. Behaviorism 5:7597. [TN]
Natsoulas, T. (1978a) Haugeland's first hurdle. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 1:243. [TN]
Natsoulas, T. (1979b) Residual subjectivity. American Psychologist 33:269–83. [TN]
Natsoulas, T. (1980) Dimensions of perceptual awareness. Psychology Department, University of California, Davis. Unpublished manuscript. [TN]
Nelson, K. & Gruendel, J. (1978) From person episode to social script: two dimensions in the development of event knowledge. Paper presented at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, San Francisco. [RCS]
Newell, A. (1973) Production systems: models of control structures. In: Visual information processing, ed. Chase, W. C.. New York: Academic Press. [WES]
Newell, A. (1979) Physical symbol systems. Lecture at the La Jolla Conference on Cognitive Science. [JRS]
Newell, A. (1980) Harpy, production systems, and human cognition. In: Perception and production of fluent speech, ed. Cole, R.. Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum Press. [WES]
Newell, A. & Simon, H. A. (1963) GPS, a program that simulates human thought. In: Computers and thought, ed. Feigenbaum, A. & Feldman, V., pp. 279–93. New York: McGraw Hill. [JRS]
Panofsky, E. (1954) Galileo as a critic of the arts. The Hague: Martínus Nijhoff. [JCM]
Popper, K. R. & Eccles, J. C. (1977) The self and its brain. Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag. [JCE, GM]
Putnam, H. (1960) Minds and machines. In: Dimensions of mind, ed. Hook, S., pp. 138–64. New York: Collier. [MR, RR]
Putnam, H. (1975a) The meaning of “meaning.” In: Mind, language and reality. Cambridge University Press. [NB, WGL]
Putnam, H. (1975b) The nature of mental states. In: Mind, language and reality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [NB]
Putnam, H. (1975c) Philosophy and our mental life. In: Mind, language and reality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [MM]
Pylyshyn, Z. W. (1980a) Computation and cognition: issues in the foundations of cognitive science. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3. [JRS, WES]
Pylyshyn, Z. W. (1980b) Cognitive representation and the process-architecture distinction. Behavioral and Brain Sciences. [ZWP]
Russell, B. (1948) Human knowledge: its scope and limits. New York: Simon and Schuster. [GM]
Schank, R. C. & Abelson, R. P. (1977) Scripts, plans, goals, and understanding. Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Press. [RCS, JRS]
Searle, J. R. (1979a) Intentionality and the use of language. In: Meaning and use, ed. Margalit, A.. Dordrecht: Reidel. [TN, JRS]
Searle, J. R. (1979b) The intentionality of intention and action. Inquiry 22:253–80. [TN, JRS]
Searle, J. R. (1979c) What is an intentional state? Mind 88:7492. [JH, GM, TN, JRS]
Sherrington, C. S. (1950) Introductory. In: The physical basis of mind, ed. Laslett, P., Oxford: Basil Blackwell. [JCE]
Slate, J. S. & Atkin, L. R. (1977) CHESS 4.5 – the Northwestern University chess program. In: Chess skill in man and machine, ed. Frey, P. W.. New York, Heidelberg, Berlin: Springer Verlag.
Sloman, A. (1978) The computer revolution in philosophy. Harvester Press and Humanities Press. [AS]
Sloman, A. (1979) The primacy of non-communicative language. In: The analysis of meaning (informatics 5), ed. McCafferty, M. & Gray, K.. London: ASLIB and British Computer Society. [AS]
Smith, E. E.; Adams, N.; & Schorr, D. (1978) Fact retrieval and the paradox of interference. Cognitive Psychology 10:438–64. [RCS]
Smythe, W. E. (1979) The analogical/propositional debate about mental representation: a Goodmanian analysis. Paper presented at the 5th annual meeting of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology, New York City. [WES]
Sperry, R. W. (1969) A modified concept of consciousness. Psychological Review 76:532–36. [TN]
Sperry, R. W. (1970) An objective approach to subjective experience: further explanation of a hypothesis. Psychological Review 77:585–90. [TN]
Sperry, R. W. (1976) Mental phenomena as causal determinants in brain function. In: Consciousness and the brain, ed. Globus, G. G., Maxwell, G., & Savodnik, I.. New York: Plenum Press. [TN]
Stich, S. P. (in preparation) On the ascription of content. In: Entertaining thoughts, ed. Woodfield, A.. [WGL]
Thorne, J. P. (1968) A computer model for the perception of syntactic structure. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 171:377–86. [JCM]
Turing, A. M. (1964) Computing machinery and intelligence. In: Minds and machines, ed. Anderson, A. R., pp. 430. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall. [MR]
Weizenbaum, J. (1965) Eliza – a computer program for the study of natural language communication between man and machine. Communication of the Association for Computing Machinery 9:3645. [JRS]
Weizenbaum, J. (1976) Computer power and human reason. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman. [JRS]
Winograd, T. (1973) A procedural model of language understanding. In: Computer models of thought and language, ed. Schank, R. & Colby, K.. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman. [JRS]
Winston, P. H. (1977) Artificial intelligence. Reading, Mass. Addison-Wesley; [JRS]
Woodruff, G. & Premack, D. (1979) Intentional communication in the chimpanzee: the development of deception. Cognition 7:333–62. [JCM]
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Behavioral and Brain Sciences
  • ISSN: 0140-525X
  • EISSN: 1469-1825
  • URL: /core/journals/behavioral-and-brain-sciences
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 14479 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 16448 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 25th June 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.