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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Emperor's New Mind.
Roger Penrose, "one of the world's most knowledgeable and creative mathematical physicists," presents in his 1989 Emperor's New Mind one of the most intriguing and substantive popularizations of mathematical logic and physical theory that has ever been published. As a reader of many books written by scientists, I will say that few compare with this one. Penrose wrestles...
Published on Dec 18 2003 by Wesley L. Janssen

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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars "Poor man's GEB" is half-right
I don't think I can finish the book in its entirety--partly because it's clumsy and difficult and partly because Penrose has given me no reason to buy into the big-picture arguments he makes on consciousness.
Whether his motivation is theism or simply a "science is presumptuous and arrogant" mindset, it seems to me that Penrose fundamentally operates in a...
Published on Jan. 16 2004 by John Lum


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Emperor's New Mind., Dec 18 2003
By 
Wesley L. Janssen (San Diego, CA USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Roger Penrose, "one of the world's most knowledgeable and creative mathematical physicists," presents in his 1989 Emperor's New Mind one of the most intriguing and substantive popularizations of mathematical logic and physical theory that has ever been published. As a reader of many books written by scientists, I will say that few compare with this one. Penrose wrestles with what he sees as some of science's most inadequate or poorly developed (although popularly accepted) ideas. As certain physical theories are found wanting, his grapplings extend to some of the deepest questions of metaphysics. Of the deepest questions, Penrose says, "To ask for definitive answers to such grandiose questions would, of course, be a tall order. Such answers I cannot provide; nor can anyone else, though some may try to impress us with their guesses." While he speaks respectfully of individuals with whom he has certain differences of opinion, the "some" in that statement might be taken to be Hawking, Dawkins, Dennett, to suggest a few. The author here tends toward a more humble and questioning approach. Penrose's puzzlings are complex and his positions are sometimes misrepresented by even his admirers. A case in point may be the fact that he finds cosmic inflation theories to have less explanatory power than others claim for them -- this doesn't mean he necessarily rejects inflation, rather he doubts claims that inflation actually helps explain the specialness of the early universe. Positivists may be disposed to discount the problem but there appears to be good reason for Penrose's skepticism. However this is not treated in this volume.
Rigorously building a case against the fundamental arguments for strong AI, Penrose begins with what for him is to ultimately be 'le coup de grâce', considerations and arguments from mathematical logic. If the human mind works non-algorithmically, then we know of no way to digitize/program its processes. The mind does in fact function non-algorithmically, a fact demonstrated without much difficulty. It learns in intuitive, non-linear, and mysteriously creative ways. The idea that some non-algorithmic approach might achieve a program equivalent to the human mind is not supported by any "useful" (or better) physical theory and is not mathematically tenable. Strong AI is thus relegated to a mere ideological preference and to sci-fi. In his mathematical considerations, Penrose is most interested in the work of Turing and Gödel and in the Platonic essence of mathematics itself. Concluding that the human mind cannot be reduced to an algorithm (or any set of algorithms), Penrose next questions whether the mind might be reducible physically. Here he finds the questions and answers less well defined than he has in mathematics. His tour of classical and quantum physics features interpretations and ideas that many readers may have not encountered (which makes the text fun). The problem of "correct quantum gravity" (that is, the incompleteness [or incorrectness?] of relativity and quantum theories) is one that Penrose and other theoreticians have struggled with for decades. Penrose wonders if this mysterious and conspicuously missing physical theory might be related to the also conspicuously missing science of mind ("the mind-body problem"). This speculation on his part is the theme also of his more recent books. As Erwin Schrödinger (like Einstein and Gödel, Platonists all) seems to be one whose ideas are of particular interest to Penrose, I will cite Schrödinger's view: "Consciousness cannot be accounted for in physical terms. For consciousness is absolutely fundamental. It cannot be accounted for in terms of anything else." But Penrose doesn't quite argue this view, although it would seem an obvious conclusion from his best arguments! Here is a classic example of how we may know something without knowing everything: we can know that the human mind cannot be reduced to an algorithm -- or algorithm of algorithms -- and yet it is not known that we can even know what exactly mind is. Particularly so if, as Schrödinger says, mind is irreducible.
The chapter on cosmology is excellent, as one might expect of a Roger Penrose. The consideration of the "specialness" of the initial [cosmological] conditions and of the relationship of this specialness to the second law of thermodynamics is also fascinating as it is precisely the second law that lends the "arrow of time" its apparent non-symmetrical aspect -- in other words, defines physical "reality" as we experience it. In this sense, the second law connects the human mind to the cosmos (which is interesting but does nothing to help us "reduce" mind).
Penrose suggests, and I cannot find any reason to disagree, that all scientific theories can be assigned to one of three broad categories, which he calls: (1.) SUPERB, (2.) USEFUL, (3.) TENTATIVE. All SUPERB theories (there are roughly a dozen) stand within the purvey of physics, and: "It is remarkable that all the SUPERB theories of Nature have proved to be extraordinarily fertile as sources of mathematical ideas. There is a deep and beautiful mystery in this fact: that these superbly accurate theories are also extraordinarily fruitful simply as mathematics. No doubt this is telling us something profound about the connections between the real world of our physical experiences and the Platonic world of mathematics." Over time, theories (particularly those that do not feature such mathematical beauty) may tend to move between the categories. Theories held to be SUPERB for centuries have dropped completely from the current categories, theories have faded and re-emerged. . . "we should not be too complacent that the pictures that we have formed at any one time are not to be overturned by some later and deeper view."
Some readers will not like the fact that, after extensive rumination on very difficult and deep questions (like "what is mind?"), the author doesn't conclude with a pretense that he, or anyone else, has definitive answers. This reader appreciated the integrity of Penrose's questionings and of his conclusions (or lack of conclusions). I will misappropriate one of Penrose's terms -- as a text examining mathematics, physics, and the human mind, this volume is SUPERB.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Thrilling Intellectual Roller Coaster of Discovery, March 6 2012
This review is from: The Emperor's New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics (Paperback)
Professor Penrose takes us on a wonderful intellectual voyage as he presents an array of information about consciousness and reality which no one else would put together.

Gradually, he entwines the multicoloured strands to present a polished argument showing why consciousness is non-computational, and no computer, however large, will ever become conscious. While computers may compute better than we can, no computer can understand, as we easily do, why the computation is necessary.

The Emperor's New Mind will have something fascinating for everyone, because of the unexpected things one finds along the road on this thrilling expedition through the classical and quantum universes.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inconclusive, but worth its weight in transistors, Feb. 29 2004
This review is from: The Emperor's New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics (Paperback)
To all those who wish to dismiss this book: Let's give Roger Penrose a break. After all, he's pretty smart (ahem!), and even if he turns out to be incorrect in suggesting that consciousness can be explained physically using physics we don't have yet, the book is a vigorous and entertaining attempt to put forth the case. He states up front that _we don't have the physics yet_, so where's the controversy?
I find the claim that Penrose simply rejects the view that the mind is a (computational) system, because no system can be both consistent and complete, a little misleading and certainly no substitute for reading the book. To address this on just one front, there is also a positive side to Penrose's argument, namely, that the mathematical insight needed to recognize undecidability and related arguments as legitimate--an insight he tries to defend against competing philosophies of math--would itself appear to lie outside the realm of computation.
As for the idea that ENM is a poor man's GEB, I see the two books as completely different in motivation. In GEB, Goedel is central in leading to the conclusion that some sort of self-reference lies at the heart of intelligence. In ENM, Goedel is important in flushing out regions of mathematical thought that appear to be non-computational, but the overarching suggestion is that consciousness will someday be explained using as-yet-undiscovered physics.
For me, the attractiveness of both books lies in their "vigor with rigor," that combination of mastery, humility, and generosity one longs for in science writing.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Materialist?, Sept. 24 2003
This review is from: The Emperor's New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics (Paperback)
I wish only to comment on the context of the book, and only because it has become such an important book. Really what I want to say here is: there is no way to pigeon hole this author or the book. This isn't simply a controversial book, this man asks the kinds of questions that change things, and the questions he has asked here have turned the claims of his opponents into so much philogestion and aether. He is starting from a point where so many others were prepared to do nothing but offer gratuitous assumptions and when challenged have only responded dogmatically. Be on guard for prior claims, especially from the life sciences.
Some have said Penrose is a self professed materialists. But unless we are talking about the Marxian kind I can't see that. Whatever his viewpoint it does not seem overly compatible with billiard balls and atomism. Penrose might as well be called an immaterialist, an idealist etc... I don't think his ideological opponents cannot simply claim him and expect the issues to go away.
This book doesn't seem overly compatible with gene-neuron-evolution-drug-patent-status quo rhetoric. There is probably no easy way to translate Penrose into Spencer. It is possible that many of the people who want to dismiss Penrose are people who would have wasted the rest of their professional lives and vast amounts of public monies on superficial or rather convenient dead ends. Penrose may not be the only one doing good work but I am guessing that many of his critics are not going to be able to continue on with business as usual. Their capacity to judge is being called into question, but more than that their collective character has been reflected in their take on the world- somehow Penrose has made that obvious. Many look pretty superficial and credit oriented. They are loosing credibility- and history is probably taking note.
Questions need to be asked. We have been fed false dichotomies, excuses (chance), empty genomes etc... Yet none of the basic questions involving, for instance, 'life' have been honestly approached. What is Life- even as a category or non-category? How does development, morphology, tissue regeneration come about? All we get is biotech marketing hype; which has come to pass for education in some countries. What about cancer and aging(?)- nothing, certainly nothing honest. And lastly what about consciousness? The people trying to denigrate Penrose with the 'Platonism' label are probably coming from the viewpoint of scientism, or at least the economically inspired laziness of the establishment.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't be fooled by kitsch materialists, March 23 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: The Emperor's New Mind (Paperback)
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly enjoyable and mind stretching!, Jan. 14 1997
By A Customer
This review is from: The Emperor's New Mind (Paperback)
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Science, Vision Lacking, Oct. 28 2003
By 
This review is from: The Emperor's New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics (Paperback)
Penrose is going after all those who thing that a computer will someday be able to "think" like we do. In other words, he does not believe that - because of some rather esoteric quantum effects - that our electr-organic brain can be replicated by electro-silicate.
This does not mean that computers will not be able to mimic, to respond, to act in a way that one has no idea if the person they are talking to is a machine or human. All this is possible, even probable. But Penrose is on a mission to raise human consciousness above machine performance - or rather, to demonstrate that it is of a different kind rather than a different order.
My only problem with his analysis is that we simply cannot know what may or may not happen in the future as technologies merge and grow and intertwine. With current technology there is not a chance that a PC will some day "recognize itself". But that is not the question really; everyone knows this. The real question is what does it mean to be human, what is consciousness, and can these characteristics, traits and components be reborn outside of organic matter?
Interesting, sometimes difficult read.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars "Poor man's GEB" is half-right, Jan. 16 2004
By 
John Lum (Tampa, FL) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Emperor's New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics (Paperback)
I don't think I can finish the book in its entirety--partly because it's clumsy and difficult and partly because Penrose has given me no reason to buy into the big-picture arguments he makes on consciousness.
Whether his motivation is theism or simply a "science is presumptuous and arrogant" mindset, it seems to me that Penrose fundamentally operates in a nonscientific manner here. He takes an incompletely-understood effect (human consciousness), rejects the simplest explanation (materialism), and crafts a clouded and speculative alternative explanation instead.
Whatever happened to Occam's Razor? Do we really need to invoke such esoteric explanations for human consciousness? And at what biological level does Penrose believe that algorithmic, materialist processes stop accounting for the observed level of awareness--bacterium? Insect? Chimpanzee?
Another reader characterized this book as "a poor man's Gödel, Escher, Bach." I agree, in that it reiterates many of the topics that Hofstadter's brilliant work covered nearly a decade earlier. There are at least two huge differences, though: first, the magic of GEB is the remarkable way that Hofstadter tied everything together into his grand thesis. In contrast, Penrose throws in ideas like non-periodic tiling but does not manage to integrate them into his whole. Of course, the huge difference is that GEB was a great ode to the limitlessness of conscious reason (whether human or not), while this book seems like little more than a rear-guard lament.
Granted, some will still read my review as an arrogant, presumptuous, and ill-informed diatribe. Well, I'll stick to science and progressivism. We still haven't lost a knowledge battle--there are just some we haven't won yet.
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4.0 out of 5 stars When is a lot too much?, Dec 17 2009
By 
S. Walker "starwarsdave" (Canada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Emperor's New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics (Paperback)
I've enjoyed reading this book. I won't be egotistical enough to brag that I understood it all - I didn't. I won't be putting forward arguments here as to how/why I think the views that Roger Penrose put forward are wrong/outdated. Did I feel stimulated? Yes I did. There were questions that I've wondered about for a long time and what are probably answers. There are chapters that I found intriguing and will be reading through again, and there are chapters that made me want to skip ahead.

This is not a reference book, but it does feel like it on occasion. There is a point being debated, stays the same throughout the book, even though the reader may lose track of this at times - which it is quite easy to do.

A good gift idea for a computer science student or for someone who seems to be living on the internet (like most of us these days), and an excellent price.
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5.0 out of 5 stars review of book titled 'the emperors new mind', Oct. 14 2009
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This review is from: The Emperor's New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics (Paperback)
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