The Emperor's New Mind Book Summary - The Emperor's New Mind Book explained in key points
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The Emperor's New Mind summary

Roger Penrose

Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics

4.6 (237 ratings)
26 mins

Brief summary

"The Emperor's New Mind" by Roger Penrose challenges the idea that consciousness is no more than a computer program, and argues that human cognition is rooted in quantum mechanics. The book discusses rational thinking, artificial intelligence, and the mysteries of the human mind.

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    The Emperor's New Mind
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    Key idea 1 of 8

    Whether computers can have minds is a question of whether the human mind is computable.

    Back in 1950, famous British computer scientist Alan Turing proposed a test to measure computer intelligence. Put simply, a machine passes the test if a human interacting with it can’t tell that he’s interacting with a machine. For example, a human interrogator could be chatting with a digital computer over text, trying to determine whether he’s talking to a computer or another human.

    Some computers can indeed imitate human conversation well enough to pass such a test. But does that mean that they’ve learned to “think” in the same way we do? 

    Here’s the key message: Whether computers can have minds is a question of whether the human mind is computable. 

    To proponents of a viewpoint known as strong AI, a computer behaving in a human, intelligent way is evidence that it possesses real, human intelligence. According to this view, even a thermostat possesses some kind of “mind” – albeit a very simple one. 

    The author, however, thinks that our minds are fundamentally non-computable. To understand the depth of his argument, we’ll have to travel to the edge of the universe and back again.

    But first, let’s have a look at what “computability” actually means. If a problem is computable, it means that it can be solved through an effective computational program, using an algorithm. An algorithm is a sequence of step-by-step instructions that tell a computer what to do. 

    Pioneering computer scientist Alan Turing was the first to devise a hypothetical model for running such algorithms. He imagined a scanner-like device running over an infinite strip of tape with squares inscribed with 0’s and 1’s. The device’s “state” changes with each number it scans. And the device also has the power to change the numbers on the tape. Which action it takes – whether it moves left or right, deletes or changes a number – depends on the initial number on the square as well as the state of the device. Turing showed that even complex algorithmic problems could be solved by this machine. 

    Even though the Turing machine is a mathematical idealization, it gives us a useful measure of computability. Any operation that can be run by a Turing machine is algorithmic. In fact, all of our modern computers are essentially Turing machines. 

    But even Turing recognized that some problems can’t be solved algorithmically. As it turns out, even some mathematical operations are not actually computable. In the next blink, we’ll try to understand why.

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    What is The Emperor's New Mind about?

    The Emperor’s New Mind (1989) is a timeless argument against the computability of the human mind. Taking you on a fascinating journey through math, computer science, philosophy, and physics, famous mathematician Roger Penrose explains what makes the human mind so special – and what quantum mechanics has to do with consciousness.

    The Emperor's New Mind Review

    The Emperor's New Mind (1989) by Roger Penrose is an enlightening exploration of the fascinating relationship between human consciousness and artificial intelligence. Here's why this book is definitely worth your time:

    • It presents compelling arguments and thought-provoking theories that challenge our understanding of the mind and its limitations.
    • Integrating mathematics, physics, and philosophy, Penrose provides a unique interdisciplinary perspective that opens up new avenues for exploration.
    • The book's in-depth exploration of consciousness and the nature of reality ensures an intellectually stimulating reading experience that will keep you engaged from start to finish.

    Who should read The Emperor's New Mind?

    • Math freaks and science geeks 
    • Hobby psychologists and armchair philosophers
    • Anyone concerned about a robot uprising

    About the Author

    Sir Roger Penrose is an acclaimed British mathematical physicist and philosopher of science. In 2020, Penrose shared one half of the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on black holes and general relativity theory. He has written several popular physics books, most recently Fashion, Faith, and Fantasy in the New Physics of the Universe (2016).

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    The Emperor's New Mind FAQs 

    What is the main message of The Emperor's New Mind?

    The main message of The Emperor's New Mind is exploring the relationship between consciousness and physics.

    How long does it take to read The Emperor's New Mind?

    The reading time for The Emperor's New Mind varies depending on the reader's speed. However, reading the Blinkist summary takes only a few minutes.

    Is The Emperor's New Mind a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The Emperor's New Mind is an insightful and thought-provoking book. It provides profound perspectives on the nature of consciousness and the philosophy of mind.

    Who is the author of The Emperor's New Mind?

    The author of The Emperor's New Mind is Roger Penrose.

    What to read after The Emperor's New Mind?

    If you're wondering what to read next after The Emperor's New Mind, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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