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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

‘Deis sophomore to release book in Jan.

Published: December 1, 2006
Section: News

What is human consciousness? If humans are just a collection of biological machinery, then what makes us distinctive and where does free will factor into this? These complex questions and more were addressed by Brandeis sophomore Eliezer Elie Sternberg, whose book, Are You a Machine?: The Brain, the Mind, And What It Means to Be Human, is being released in early January.

After reading an article by philosopher John Searle on the possibility of building conscious machines in his junior year of high school, Sternberg was inspired to write a paper for his junior English class, which he then submitted to Prometheus publishing between his junior and senior years of high school.

Prometheus expressed interest in his 20-page paper, but told him to expand on it.

Prometheus, a publisher based in Buffalo, was the only publisher to which Sternberg submitted his paper. This publisher was chosen by Sternberg because he felt they have a record of publishing titles that question the world and, as he explained, the book addresses an issue younger people might be troubled byhow science represents them.

Sternbergs book addresses the inherent problem with considering humans to be merely the product of biological mechanism, free will and everything that makes us human.

It features logic problems proposed by Sternberg that the reader must work out for him or herself, but it also includes Sternbergs thoughts and personal conclusions.

Sternberg, who had no agent for his book, took a lighter course load during his senior year of high school and continued writing.

He sent a draft of his yet-to-be-accepted book into colleges with his application, and asked to speak to members of each schools philosophy department about his manuscript during the application process.

All the universities he applied to opted not to speak to him about it except Brandeis.

Brandeiss then Director of Admissions, Deena Whitfield, asked Philosophy Department Chair Andreas Teuber, Ph.D to look at the Sternbergs submission from his application. Teuber explained to The Hoot that this practice of asking someone within the field of a work by an applicant, at least at the law school application level, is not uncommon.

Teuber agreed to look at the work, and afterwards asked Professor Jerry Samet, whose area of study was more closely aligned with Sternbergs work, to look at it as well. Teuber then reported back to Whitfield, giving a glowing recommendation of Sternbergs work.

After merely reading a draft of the unfinished manuscript in 2005, Teuber described Sternberg in a letter to Deena Whitfield as the real dealmeaning that Sternberg was really passionate and thinking about these important issues. He wrote that the manuscript is unique in a way we might expect from our best and the brightest students.

Teuber summarized the draft, stating that the various chapters address a number of topics in cognitive science, artificial intelligence, neuroscience, and philosophy of mind and range from 'What is consciousness?' to discussions of John Searle's 'Chinese Room Experiment,' as well as the theories of Dan Dennett, David Chalmers, Bert Dreyfus, Paul Churchland, and others.

Sternberg, pleased by Brandeis faculty accessibility, among other reasons, decided to come to Brandeis.

Prior to his freshman year at Brandeis, Teuber asked Sternberg to speak to his students enrolled in an Introduction to Philosophy summer course at Harvard.

Last summer, Teuber asked Sternberg to speak to his Harvard summer course again, and then asked him to speak to his Brandeis Introduction to Philosophy students this past fall.

Teuber heralded Sternbergs accomplishment, stating that it is maybe the beginning of a new kind of literature, which is peer-to-peer literature. Teuber suggested that Sternbergs work can serve as an exemplar for students because professors seem more mysterious and distant, but doing the type of work Sternberg accomplished seems possible when a peer achieved it.

Prometheus, knowing of Sternbergs relationship with Teuber, asked Sternberg to see if Teuber would be willing to write Sternbergs foreword to lend his book the expertise of someone established within the field of philosophy.

I had no credibility, Sternberg commented. I had no degree.

Teuber agreed to write the foreword and the final edits to the paper were sent to Sternberg only last week.

Teuber explained to The Hoot that it seemed it would also help the book to write something, so I was happy to do it. I felt that what Elie has done is not only impressive but importantespecially if it inspires other people Elies age to tackle what otherwise might seem like very difficult subjects and give them an opportunity to articulate their own view.

Teuber, in writing Sternbergs foreword, wanted to say something to get things going. However, he added that he did not want to steal [Elies] thunder because its really his work that is what is impressive.

During Sternbergs freshman year, Prometheus officially accepted his completed manuscript for publication.

Sternberg, who just had a very enthusiastic interest in the subject of human consciousness following his exposure to the Searle article, always wanted to write a book, and the [Searle] article and English assignment just happened to be the opportunity [to do so].

The book, now available by pre-order on Amazon, will be officially released in early January and will be available in select book stores.

In Sternbergs spare time, the sophomore double-majoring in Neuroscience and Philosophy works in Professor Gregory Petskos neurology lab, working on drug design. The project entails trying to design a protein that will block another protein to hopefully help cure Alzheimers disease. He eventually wants to obtain a M.D./PhD in neurology or neurobiology.

Sternberg is currently three-quarters of the way done working on his second book, which discusses free will, moral agency, and neuroscience.