The Mind, the Body: Searle Knows Best





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John Searle may be one of UC Berkeley's most famous professors, but he has not heard of "The Simpsons."

"You mean OJ?" he says. "That was dreadful. A guy murdered his wife and got off."

His theories on consciousness, however, do relate to the opening sequence of the show, when Maggie appears to be driving a car using a dummy steering wheel while Marge is in fact in control. Searle, the campus's Mills Professor of Philosophy, uses a similar analogy to show that the mind does not control the body because the two are not separate things.

   
John Searle

"In a nutshell, I call my stance biological naturalism," he says. "We have a body. All of our mental states are caused by brain processes. We are conscious, embodied brains."

Searle has garnered student and professional praise during his 40 years at the university.

Best known for his work on consciousness, Searle has published ten books and helped found UC Berkeley's pioneering department of cognitive science.

He was a champion of the Free Speech Movement and won a Distinguished Teaching Award last year.

Wearing sneakers and a sweater in an office that more closely resembles a living room than a cubicle, Searle remains approachable to his students.

His attitude toward achievement, however, is not as relaxed as his appearance.

"If you work really hard and you live a long time, you can produce a lot," he says.

He says his job enables him to travel widely.

"I just got back from Korea, and I was in Italy in October," he says. "I spent two months in Europe in the summer. So I travel a lot - but that's often in connection with my work. When I go to Europe, I usually give lectures as well."

Despite his busy schedule, Searle also finds time for leisure, as photographs on his wall of the philosopher on skis wearing a wooly hat testify.

"I've never been lonely on a Saturday night," Searle says, despite the fact that -when asked - there is not a single celebrity he says he would take on a date if he had to choose. He says he prefers "women of superior intellect."

While he says he has never put on a lab coat or gotten his hands dirty with the experimental side of neural biology, there is certainly no shame in it.

"Einstein didn't conduct experiments, he just used a pencil and paper," he says.

Not afraid to stand up for his ideas, he says his research has often faced criticism.

"Much of my life, people have told me that what I was doing wasn't real philosophy because it was some kind of science or linguistics or whatever, but I never worry about that. I just do what interests me," he says.

Searle's efforts, however, have been well rewarded. He is one of five philosophy professors who earn between $143,700 and $180,400. At UC Berkeley, the department is one of the most prestigious and highly paid in the world.

At the University of Wisconsin, he was named a Rhodes Scholar and spent a year at Oxford University. Once the scholarship was over, he remained at the university as a research lecturer at Christ Church College.

"At Oxford, I taught young men in lounge suits who weren't frightfully excited about their educations, but here I teach the United Nations," he says. "I teach an extraordinary range of people."

UC Berkeley and Oxford offer very different educational experiences, he says.

"The tutorial system worked fine for me, but it's not a very efficient system if you want to educate a large number of people," he says.

When he left Oxford, Searle became involved in the Free Speech Movement, and Mario Savio was one of his students. A research professor at the time, Searle was the first tenured faculty member to take the side of the students.

Although Berkeley has changed radically since the 1960s, Searle said he still enjoys living in the city and teaching at the university.

"It's a nice place to live," he says. "I like my students. It's a good intellectual environment."

Football, however, has lost some of its appeal for Searle.

"The San Francisco 49ers used to be a joy to watch, and they're not so good anymore," he says.

He adds, however, that his environment has affected him less than learning new things has.

"Why is knowledge important?" he asks. "Well, it changes your life."

Searle carries his philosophy into the classroom, where he is charismatic, entertaining and his lectures are always very full, students say.

As a researcher, Searle is just as well-liked, says Jennifer Hudin, a graduate student in cognitive science and Searle's research assistant.

"Working for Searle is fantastic," she says. "It is both tremendously difficult and tremendously enlightening. What else can I say?"

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