Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Review: Are We Unique?
Are We Unique? by James S. Trefil
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This would be just another run-of-the-mill "philosophy of mind: here's my take" book if it were not for the unique approach taken by Trefil. What made this book particularly interesting to read is that Trefil approaches the controversy over human uniqueness, intelligence, consciousness, etc. and its reproducibility from a third-way perspective. While maintaining a materialist stance, he simultaneously departs from the usual materialist party line and argues that humans differ in kind and not merely in degree from animals and machines. His thesis seems to boil down to the belief that the unique and unrepeatable circumstances of human evolution, which led to the formation of this thing we call human consciousness, have created something that simply cannot be created using any other means. The engineer is incapable of reproducing what nature has made, in this case (and, Trefil would add, in many others, such as the human eye and the wings of insects). While I am not so sure that Trefil entirely makes his case, he does raise a number of fascinating points along the way and does an excellent job of introducing the reader to some very important points in philosophy, neurobiology, technology, and more. It was a joy to read.
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