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If we assume that both computers and the human mind are merely physical, does it

If we assume that both computers and the human mind are merely physical, does it follow that a sufficiently advanced computer could do anything that a human brain could do?

As Richard points out, logically, no, it does not follow. Just because two things are both (merely) physical, it does not follow that one of them can do anything that the other can do, not even if both of the (merely) physical things are brains. My pencil is a physical thing, but it can't do everything that my brain can. A cat's brain is physical, but it can't do everything that mine can. (Of course, mine can't do everything a cat's brain can either: I don't usually land on my feet when I jump from a height, and I'm pretty bad at catching mice.)

But I think your question really is simply whether a sufficiently advanced computer can do anything that a human brain can. Even so, we need to be a bit more precise. By "anything", I'm guessing that you really mean "anything cognitive"; so, I think your real question is a version of: Can computers think?

Philosophers, cognitive scientists, and computer scientists disagree on the answer to that question. I think that one of the best ways to think about how to answer it is this: How much of (human) cognition is computable? In other words, how much of the cognitive things we do (like think, reason, use language, plan, learn, remember, and so on) can be done by (or, more weakly, simulated by) a computer?

If the answer is that all of it is computable, then the answer to your question (as I'm reinterpreting it) is "yes". If the answer is that only some of it is computable, then it will be interesting to see which things are not computable, and why they aren't. But a very great deal of human cognitive activity has been shown to be computable (at least in part), so we can be hopeful that the real answer is that all of it is.

There has been a lot written on this topic. A good place to start is with Alan Turing's classic paper, "Computing Machinery and Intelligence"; there's an online version here

To find out what researchers in artificial intelligence (AI) have accomplished, visit the AI Topics website

I hope this makes sense... I've always been curious about attempts to understand

I hope this makes sense... I've always been curious about attempts to understand the way our minds work. To me, it seems paradoxical and in some ways even hopeless. I suspect that in order for the mind to understand or learn something new, the mind itself (or at least the way it works) needs to be more complex than what it it processing. In other words, the "size" of the new information cannot exceed the "capacity" of the mind itself in order to store it. An example of this would be the way computers work: Let's say I have a PC with an old operating system (Windows 2000) and I wish to run a software CD designed for a more advanced operating system (Windows 8). My old computer will most likely not recognize any of the information on that new CD, either because my old computer requires more free space (capacity of mind) or because the information stored on that CD requires a different kind of technology to decrypt (complexity of idea). Thus, you can use a computer to fully process programs (according to its...

I don't work in this sort of area myself, but this kind of view has been held. The position is known as mysterianism, and its main proponent is Colin McGinn. Considerations in the same ballpark also fuel the (in)famous arguments against mechanism due to John Lucas.

What certainly does seem clear is that this kind of possibility can't be ruled out a priori. Surely there are some things human minds simply could not ever understand. That's true of all other creatures. Cats, for example, clearly do not have minds complex enough to understand calculus, let alone the nature of their own minds. We all have cognitive limitations. Perhaps we are in a similar position with respect to our minds.

But it is not obvious either that our minds are limited in this particular way. The "self-reflective" aspect of understanding our own minds does not, by itself, show that we couldn't possibly do it. Your references to complexity and the like are suggestive, but there are many ways to measure of complexity.

Are there any philosophers that affirm the substantiality of consciousness

Are there any philosophers that affirm the substantiality of consciousness without either falling into dualism or property dualism? I personally think that mind is a genuine reality but I'm not so certain that it is a substance in the sense that it is a reality with purely mental properties that exists separately from anything else. But I personally don't think property dualism is a viable alternative either.

Yes. The pioneering physicalists of the 1950s and 1960s, Smart, Armstrong and Place thought that. See http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/mind-identity/. I think it is misleading to think in terms of dualism versus monism. Even familiar properties of middle-sized and large ‘physical’ objects, such as size, shape, colour, rigidity, tensile strength, fragility and hardness are not identical to any properties at the level of quantum mechanics. ‘Physical’ is a loose lay term of little real use, and what we call ‘physical’ comes in many forms. In my view, mental properties are just more properties of middle-sized objects that are made out of wavicles, but do not reduce to quantum-level properties any more than , say, fragility does. I recommend pluralism about properties, rather than dualism or monism.

I hope this question doesn't conflict with the ''don't ask questions that are

I hope this question doesn't conflict with the ''don't ask questions that are too general'' in the guidelines, but I have a question that I think goes under analytical philosophy, if I am not wrong, that I can't seem to find anywhere on the internet. The question is: what does it mean to understand? It seems like there are so many other questions that hinges on this question; so many other question that will become more intelligible if this question is answered. For example, if I am wondering whether or not we will be able to understand everything there is to understand in the universe, i.e. that nothing will remain mysterious in the end, it all depends on what is meant by understanding. It can't be the same as predicting, because one may be able to predict something without necessarilty understanding it. It can't be the same as saying some words, because one may recite something someone else have said without understanding. It can't be having the correct ''images'' showing up in your mind, because the...

Thank you for the question and your reflections on some possibilities and suggestions! I believe that in our ordinary usage in English, the term "understand" often suggests both a level of comprehension as well as some degree of empathy or sympathy (but not necessarily endorsement). A policeman might say: "I understand why you were driving dangerously. If I caught my husband cheating on me, I would probably drive quite dangerously myself. But in that case, we would both be wrong in endangering others." In philosophy, when we speak in terms of understanding some state of affairs, we usually are speaking in terms of comprehension, rather than expressing any sympathy. What kind of comprehension is involved will vary depending on the state of affairs. I might understand that 6 is the smallest perfect number by knowing that a perfect number is equal to the sum of its divisors, including one, but not itself and 6 equals 1+2+3. I might rightly claim to understand that my colleague is a materialist, but without knowing why. As for a further definition of what understanding or comprehension is, I suspect we will only be able to invoke synonyms (to understand a state of affairs is to conceive of it, to comprehend it, to know something of the causes involved or to know something about why it is what it is, and so on...). Sometimes in philosophy we wind up with primitive concepts, concepts that cannot be further explained in terms clearer, alternative concepts. So, we may make some progress in analyzing some concepts, for example (arguably) to know that X is to believe that X and to be justified in that belief, and the justification for that belief does not involve any essential reasoning with a false premise. But certain concepts like 'understand' or 'belief' or (to take a popular term in the current literature) 'consciousness' may have to be taken as primitive and 'defined' ostensively (by offering examples) but not unpacked and analyzed as in a 'bachelor' is an 'unmarried male.'

In philosophy there's supposed to be a "problem of other minds". But sometimes

In philosophy there's supposed to be a "problem of other minds". But sometimes our own minds are problems. Is it possible for others, say my friends and family, to know me "better" than I know myself? Might I have a sort of blind-spot where I'm (my self is) concerned that others are able to see more clearly?

It's a good question and the answer seems pretty plausibly to be yes. The impression that people have of themselves can often be off the mark, and that can be shown by how they actually behave. Someone who thinks he's generous might really be stingy, always finding excuses not to contribute his fair share. Someone who thinks she's not very smart might actually have a lot of insight, as those who know her can plainly see. And on it goes. We're complicated beings. There's no reason a priori to think that the part of our minds that tries to make sense of ourselves overall is likely to be especially good at it. No doubt there are some things about ourselves that we're in a better position than others to know, but when it comes to the larger patterns and dispositions that go into making us who we are, disinterested outsiders may well be in a better position than we are to get things right.

If I "zoom out" for a moment, then any deliberations I'm making (well, really

If I "zoom out" for a moment, then any deliberations I'm making (well, really any thoughts at all that I'm having) seem like part of a process to which I am just an observer. It is certainly true that these processes are occurring in MY brain, which is part of MY body, however thoughts either come to mind or they don't. I can't help but feel as if the only me that really exists is simply a collection of concurrent processes that, via consciousness, are at times able to observe themselves occurring. And furthermore, given what we know about the fallibility of memory and yet also memory's crucial role in the development of character/personality/identity, etc., I can't also help but feel that what I am is the product of a lengthly string of inaccuracies. Pardon the confused language. It's quite difficult to speak about these matters without necessarily recurring to the very terms and concepts that are in question. What I'd like to know is how I can continue to think about these issues without becoming...

David Hume (1711-1776) famously sought to escape skeptical doubts of the sort you describe by distracting himself from them: "I dine, I play a game of backgammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends; and when after three or four hours' amusement, I would return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strained, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther" (Treatise 1.4.7).

But I don't think you have to seek distraction. My advice is to consider carefully (1) what it is you took yourself to be before you began "zooming out" and (2) whether the observations you make after zooming out really do cast doubt on (1). I think careful consideration of (1) and (2) may lead you to regard those observations as less threatening to (1) than they now seem to you.

In your question, you concede that you have a brain and a body. You observe that thoughts often come to you unbidden, but isn't it also true that you sometimes can control, to at least some extent, the thoughts that occur to you, such as when you try to remember where you left your keys and succeed in remembering? How much control over your thoughts does (1) in fact require?

Yes, memory is fallible, but that doesn't make it unreliable, as I argued in my answer to Question 4490. Indeed, the evidence we have that our memory is fallible itself depends on our memory's being reliable. So I think it's perhaps a poetic overstatement to conclude that "what I am is the product of a lengthy string of inaccuracies." How much accuracy in your recollections does (1) in fact require?

Let us know whether further thinking about (1) and (2) makes you more confident of (1) or not. (Or whether dining and backgammon did the trick instead.)

Throughout life, we all have fantasies, from childhood fantasies of being rock

Throughout life, we all have fantasies, from childhood fantasies of being rock star/doctors/astronauts, to "adult" fantasies of wealth, fame and power. These "adult fantasies", including, but not limited to, images of wealth, power, lust, power, status, and/or self-actualization, are seemingly very common. Do you think these fantasies are more beneficial, allowing us to aspire for greater goals in life and being driven to attain them, or dangerous, filling us with envious glowers of lust with little determination to fulfill them?

A great question, and not easily answered! The English Romantic poet and philosopher Samuel Coleridge drew a sharp distinction between fantasy and imagination in which the first is relatively feckless and futile (and your examples would fit under what Coleridge would classify as fantasy), whereas imagination is more constructive and is employed to think about the meaning of life, God, the good, and our relationships and responsibilities to one another, and the life. I believe the Cambridge University philosopher Douglas Hedley defends position like that. I tend to take a somewhat more relaxed view. While clearly fantasies can be horribly self-absorbed, even cruel, surely (I suggest) our lives would be poorer without some fantasies --a child fantasizing about becoming an astronaut or an adult fantasizing about being a great diplomat who both gets Hamas to recognize that the state of Israel to exist and insures that the Korean peninsular is nuclear free. Sometimes the entertaining of outright fantasies (what if Tom Cruise asked me to marry me?) can even tell you things about yourself that you weren't fully aware of (I would say no, because, come to think of it, Scientology is too weird).

I am writing a book dealing with Alzheimer’s disease for young people. The

I am writing a book dealing with Alzheimer’s disease for young people. The protagonist, a boy in the 8th grade, is grappling with his grandmother’s progressing AD. I would be interested on your thoughts about identity/mind and Alzheimer’s disease. Is a person with progressive AD the same person that they were without the disease? Any resource suggestions would be appreciated. The boy is in a philosophy class at his Catholic school and much of his questioning will come through class discussions

This is a really interesting question. John Locke, in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, famously defined a person as "a thinking intelligent being, that has reason and reflection, and can consider itself as itself, the same thinking thing, in different times and places; which it does only by that consciousness which is inseparable from thinking, and as it seems to me, essential to it." He then goes on to talk about our personal identity over time: "For, since consicousness always accompanies thinking, and it is that that makes everyone to be what he calls self, and thereby distinguishes himself from all other thinking things, in this alone consists personal identity, i.e., the sameness of rational being; and as far back as this consciousness can be extended backwards to any past action or though, so far reaches the identity of that person."

The notion of consciousness extending backward is often taken to signify memory, and so a Lockean theory of personal identity suggests that person A at time t2 will be the same person as person B at time t1 if and only if person A remembers some experience/s of B's. This Lockean memory theory would thus suggest that, in many cases of progressing AD, the AD patient is not the same person as she was 10, 20, 30 (etc.) years ago -- if she doesn't have any memories of experiences from that time, then the AD patient is literally not the same person as the person who had those experiences.

Nowadays many philosophers who are inclined toward a Lockean view actually endorse a broader psychological theory, rather than a narrower memory theory, so that what matters are not just connections of memory but rather more general psychological connections. Depending on how far the AD has progressed, however, these other psychological connections may be missing as well.

But as plausible as the psychological theory sounds, it is very hard not to believe that it's still Grandma who is there, afflicted with this disease. After all, we still visit her, we care about how she's treated, we haven't yet held a funeral, her will has not been probated, etc. etc. So we seem to have some conflicting intuitions on this score, intuitions that suggest that something other than psychology might be involved in personal identity. There are other philosophers who argue that bodily continuity is what matters, and yet others who have focussed specifically on the brain (even if the brain does not support the same psychology over tiem). So the whole subject is very tricky indeed.

You may be interested to read John Perry's Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality, which is a short and accessible treatment of many issues that will be relevant to your project. Good luck with it!

What is imagination? How an explanation of the imagination? Is it true that a

What is imagination? How an explanation of the imagination? Is it true that a person's imagination comes from experience and knowledge of one's own. Is it possible to imagine beyond the limits of our own thinking? If possible how? what are the limitations in our imagination? and how we can eliminate those restrictions in order to imagine freely and without limits?

Interesting!! The old, classic definition of 'imagination' as the power to form images. We now use it more broadly as one might imagine something that involves no images, e.g. you might imagine becoming a world leader, but not thereby utilize any image whatever. I suggest that the imagination is our power to image, picture, think of some state of affairs that is not immediately present to your senses. In this vey broad definition, it may be argued (as some philosophers have done) that we routinely use our imagination whenever we perceive things. For example, technically, I may only sense the surface of a baseball, but because I can picture it as a solid, three dimensional object with a side that I am not immediately sensing, we naturally claim that I perceive the baseball.

On your second question, surely experience, knowledge, memories, past beliefs, stories you have heard, films, plays, and more may enter into what you imagine.

On your third question, about whether it is possible to imagine something beyond one's thinking, if imagination is a type of thinking or involves the exercise of thought, you cannot imagine what you cannot think about. Still, through imagination, you might well come to see the world from radically new perspectives. When you read about mountain climbing, you might well stretch your thinking and imagination, even if you have never seen a mountain, let alone climbed one.

On the limits and power of imagination, some philosophers (like John Locke) maintained that imagination was pivotal for the exercise of freedom. If you cannot or do not imagine doing something different from your habitual routines, chances are you will not freely undertake a different course of action. Some philosophers (like David Hume) have plausibly held that imagination was foundational to ethics (which involves trying to see situations from the points of view of the different parties involved). As for trying to remove some of the obstacles that limit our imagination, philosophers like Iris Murdoch and Martha Nussbaum suggest that reading can be an important tool. Another important tool is conversations with those very different from yourself, and I will end this long-ish (perhaps less than ideally imaginative) reply by noting what Charles Darwin recommended in the last paragraph of his memoir of his experiences on the HMS Beagle about learning new things and making friends; Darwin recommended TRAVEL! You can find the book online and check out the ending.:

is Jungs' theory of synchronicity simply nonsense? I can make neither head nor

is Jungs' theory of synchronicity simply nonsense? I can make neither head nor tail of it. It is often quoted by 'new agers' as sign that we are all in a way "connected" (i.e networks for a higher consciousness, etc) and I feel that they have abused the original concept, but I myself can't even understand it.

Perhaps we might start with a distinction between two things the accusation of nonsense might mean. One is that it's patently false; the other is that there's no coherent idea. Your worry is pretty clearly the latter, and I'm sympathetic: whatever exactly Jung meant, it's hard to be sure that one has gotten hold of it. With that in mind, my sense is that there's an interesting idea behind the notion of synchronicity, though not one I'm inclined to believe.

Insofar as I understand it, synchronicity is meaningful coincidence. More particularly, it's meaningful coincidence between an inner state of mind and an occurrence in the outer world. By saying that synchronicities are coincidences, Jung meant that neither of the events causes the other. By saying that the coincidence is meaningful, Jung seems to mean two things. The first, and more obvious, is that the outer event corresponds in a meaningful way to the inner state. In one of Jung's well-known examples, a patient is recounting a dream about a golden scarab. At that moment, Jung heard a noise outside his window. He opened it, and a beetle flew in - one with an iridescent coloring that suggested the golden beetle of the woman's dream. Jung grabbed and and presented it to the patient, with the words "Here is your beetle." According to Jung, this led to a breakthrough in the woman's treatment. The apparently meaningful correspondence is clear enough. The second aspect of this meaningfulness is that such events are not accident or chance; not coincidence in the sense of what we might call mere coincidence.

This obviously raises a good many questions. One is why we should believe that cases like tjis are not mere coincidence. Jung seems to have thought that apparently meaningful coincidences happen more often than chance would predict. If that were true, it might provide some evidence for the existence of genuine synchronicities, though how one would go about collecting the evidence, let alone calculating the relevant probabilities is very hard to say. And even if we were able to establish that meaningful coincidences happen more often than chance would predict, it would take yet further argument to decide whether that such "connections" were cases of one event causing the other, or cases of both events having a common cause or yet some other sort of relationship.

Of course what Jung had in mind fits into a broader picture in which meaning is woven into the universe itself. In fact, Jung's outlook has more in common with the views of, say, Renaissance figures such as Marsilio Ficino or Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa than with the way those of us who admire science look at things. This is part of what makes it hard to get a grip on; we aren't used to thinking that way. For my own part, I don't share Jung's outlook, but I find the exercise of trying to grasp its outlines a fascinating one. I'm deeply skeptical of Jung's view, but I'm not prepared to say that the idea of synchronicity is simply unintelligible.

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