John Searle’s homunculus announces phased retirement
After 54 years of teaching at Berkeley, the man inside John Searle’s head has announced he will be entering a three-year phased retirement after the end of the current semester. The diminutive Zhu Tao made the announcement at a press conference Monday in a rare out-of-costume appearance.
At the conference Zhu said he is retiring from his current position in order to spend more time with Searle’s family. “I have become quite attached to these people,” Zhu said through a translator. “Although, admittedly, not being able to understand a word they say has limited the intimacy of our relationships.”
Though it never afforded genuine understanding, for the most part Zhu’s English-to-English instruction manual served him well during his time as Searle. One notable exception was the famous Searle-Derrida debate, in which Searle leveled charges of “deliberate obscurantism” against Derrida and other deconstructionists. “Some people do not use words according to their prescribed manner,” said Zhu, reflecting on the exchange. “This results in great confusion.”
While he expressed sadness at the end of an era, Zhu looked back with pride at his time inside John Searle’s head. Zhu is popularly credited with sparking the shift away from brain-based cognition. Today that shift continues apace, with figures such as Andy Clark and David Chalmers outsourcing their thinking to call centers in India as part of a growing movement of philosophers who believe cognition can extend beyond the boundaries of one’s skull.
In the spring of 2014-15 and 2015-16 Zhu will hold a visiting position at Tufts inside the head of Daniel Dennett, after which he will officially become emeritus at Berkeley.