Everyone agrees that computers do not employ reason; they compute. This harmony dissolves when the discussion turns to the future, where vastly more powerful machines will develop sentience and feelings—or not.
In this dense but imaginative meditation on how humans think, Gelernter (Computer Science/Yale Univ.; America-Lite: How Imperial Academia Dismantled Our Culture and Ushered in the Obamacrats, 2012, etc.) marshals philosophers, poets, and authors (J.M. Coetzee’s Life & Times of Michael K provides one illuminating exploration), but few scientists, in support of his mildly quirky view of human consciousness. According to the author, the mind is a “room with a view” that combines inner thoughts with events in the outside world. He downplays the popular view that thought relates to the brain as software relates to hardware, maintaining that the mind is never in a steady state. All thought processes—e.g., memory, emotion, reason, and self-reflection—vary along a spectrum that depends on one’s physical state and the time of day. At the top, where the computer analogy works, focus is intense, reason rules, and memory is subordinate: a source of data. Focus, but not memory, dims as the mind moves down-spectrum to fatigue, drowsiness, and finally sleep. Along the way, memory takes over, but it’s pliable human memory, not hard-wired silicon. Perception becomes unreliable; we dream. “Up-spectrum, the mind pursues meaning by using logic,” writes the author. “Moving down-spectrum, it tends to pursue meaning by inventing stories—as we do when we dream. A logical argument and a story are two ways of putting fragments in proper relationship and guessing where the whole sequence leads and how it gets there.”
Eschewing research in favor of literature and Freud, Gelernter delivers a personal, reasonable, nonscientific analysis of the mind.