This shot of the old philosopher by the fire with his shootin' ahrn nicely complements some of the combative things he says in the Zan Boag interview at NewPhilosopher. (HT: Karl White.) For example, "I don’t read much philosophy, it upsets me when I read the nonsense written by my contemporaries, the theory of extended mind makes me want to throw up…so mostly I read works of fiction and history."
The surly (Searle-y?) reference is to externalist theories of mind such as Ted Honderich's and Clark and Chalmers' The Extended Mind.
I found this exchange interesting:
You say that consciousness is a real subjective experience, caused by the physical processes of the brain, and that where consciousness is concerned, the appearance is reality. Can you elaborate on this?
John Searle: Consciousness exists only insofar as it is experienced by a human or animal subject. OK, now grant me that consciousness is a genuine biological phenomenon. Well, all the same it’s somewhat different from other biological phenomena because it only exists insofar as it is experienced. However, that does give it an interesting status. You can’t refute the existence of consciousness by showing that it’s just an illusion because the illusion/ reality distinction rests on the difference between how things consciously seem to us and how they really are. But where the very existence of consciousness is concerned, if it consciously seems to me that I’m conscious, then I am conscious. You can’t make the illusion/reality distinction for the very existence of consciousness the way you can for sunsets and rainbows because the distinction is between how things consciously seem and how they really are.
You also say that consciousness is a physical property, like digestion or fire.
John Searle: Consciousness is a biological property like digestion or photosynthesis. Now why isn’t that screamingly obvious to anybody who’s had any education? And I think the answer is these twin traditions. On the one hand there’s God, the soul and immortality that says it’s really not part of the physical world, and then there is the almost as bad tradition of scientific materialism that says it’s not a part of the physical world. They both make the same mistake, they refuse to take consciousness on its own terms as a biological phenomenon like digestion, or photosynthesis, or mitosis, or miosis, or any other biological phenomenon.
Part of what Searle says in his first response is importantly correct. Since the distinction between illusion and reality presupposes the reality of consciousness, it makes no sense to suppose that consciousness might be an illusion, let alone assert such a monstrous thesis. It amazes me that there are people who are not persuaded by such luminous and straightforward reasoning. But pace Searle it does not follow that consciousness is a biological phenomenon. If biological phenomena are those phenomena that are in principle exhaustively intelligible in terms of the science of biology, then I don't see how consciousness could be biological even if it is found only in biologically alive beings. Can the what-it-is-like feature be accounted for in purely biological terms? (That's a rhetorical question.) And that's just for starters.
In the second response, Searle claims that consciousness is a biological property and that this ought to be "screamingly obvious" to anyone with "any education." Come on, John! Do you really want to suggest that the philosophical problem of consciousness as this is rigorously formulated by people like Colin McGinn is easily solved just be getting one's empirical facts straight? Do you really mean to imply that people who do not agree with your philosophy of mind are ignorant of plain biological facts? If consciousness were a biological phenomenon just like digestion or photosynthesis or mitosis or meiosis, then consciousness would be as unproblematic as the foregoing. It isn't.
Why is it that there is a philosophical problem of consciousness, but no philosophical problem of digestion? Note the obvious difference between the following two questions. Q1: How is consciousness possible given that it really exists, arises in the brain, but is inexplicable in terms of what we know and can expect to know about animal and human brains? Q2: How is digestion possible given that it really exists, takes place in the stomach and its 'peripherals,' but is inexplicable in terms of what we know and can know about animal and human gastrointestinal systems?
Obviously, there is a philosophical problem about consciousness but no philosophical problem about digestion. And note that even if some philosopher argues that there is no genuine philosophical problem about consciousness, because one has, say, been bewitched by language, or has fallen afoul of some such draconian principle as the Verifiability Criterion of Cognitive Meaningfulness, no philosopher would dream of arguing that there is no genuine philosophical problem of digestion. It needs no arguing. For whether or not there is a genuine problem about consciousness, there is a putative problem about it. But there is not even a putative philosophical problem about digestion. The only problems concerning digestion are those that can be solved by taking an antacid or by consulting a gastroenterologist or by doing more empirical gut science.
This is why it is at least possible with a modicum of sense to argue that the philosophy of mind collapses into the neuroscience of the brain, but impossible sensibly to argue that the the philosophy of digestion collapses into gastroenterology or that the philosophy of blood filtering and detoxification collapses into hepatology. There is no philosophy of digestion or philosophy of blood filtering and detoxification.
It is obviously not obvious that consciousness is a biological phenomenon. Searle is brilliant when it comes to exposing the faults of other theories of mind, but he is oblivious to the problems with his own. Searle 'knows' in his gut that naturalism just has to be true, which is why he cannot for a second take seriously any suggestion that consciousness might have a higher origin. But he ought to admit that his comparison of consciousness to digestion and photosynthesis and mitosis and meiosis is completely bogus. He can still be a naturalist, however, either by pinning his hopes on some presently incoceivable future science or by going mysterian in the manner of McGinn.
More on Searle in my appropriately appellated Searle category.