Advanced Search

Does the Turing test, the attempt to verify the proposition "Machines can think"

Does the Turing test, the attempt to verify the proposition "Machines can think" through an 'imitation game', come down to a confusion over "like" and "identical with"? i.e can I say the following "If it is like x is thinking, therefore what x is doing is identical to thinking"?

That's one interpretation, but there are many others. My favorite interpretation focuses on this passage in Turing's classic 1950 essay, "Computing Machinery and Intelligence" (Mind 59:433-460):

I believe that at the end of the century the use of words and general educated opinion will have altered so much that one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted.

Of course, that century ended around the year 2000, and Turing's predicted "alteration" hasn't yet happened. But that's beside the point. Turing's claim, according to this passage, is that, if computers (better: computational cognitive agents or robots) pass Turing tests, then we will eventually change our beliefs about what it means to think (we will generalize the notion so that it applies to computational cognitive agents and robots as well as humans), and we will change the way we use words like 'think' (in much the same way that we have generalized what it means to fly or to be a computer, and have changed the way we use those words: Once upon a time, only animals like birds flew; now airplanes do, too. And once upon a time, only humans were computers; now machines are, too. (Take a look at an ad for a "computer" in The New York Times from 1892)

For more discussion, see:

James H. Moor (ed.), The Turing Test: The Elusive Standard of Artificial Intelligence (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 2003)

Shieber, Stuart M. (ed.) (2004), The Turing Test: Verbal Behavior as the Hallmark of Intelligence (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).

if two people share a thought triggered by there shared experience of a similar

if two people share a thought triggered by there shared experience of a similar situation/stimuli and/or genetic wiring (i.e. there is a causl relationship between there responses), would this be considered telepatahy? for example if two people looked at a work of art and at the same time thought to themselves the word "amazing" this would surely not be considered telepathic, as it is a very common response. But why shouldn't it be considered telepathy if they share the same thought and there is a causal relationship? I'm not saying that people can read each others thoughts outright, but that similar thought patterns are brought on by similar situations and/or genetic makeup (I won't get into nature vs nurture).

After reading this question, I first tried to transmit my answer to you telepathically, but it wasn't working, so I thought I'd try this more traditional method.

In any case, it strikes me that in order for something to count as telepathy, one would have to have some sort of direct and unmediated access to the thoughts of another. Suppose Jane and Clone Jane both go see a movie and, because they have identical genetic makeups and (let's suppose) similar past experiences, they each think something like "The ending would have been more emotionally satisfactory had the hero not gotten killed." Each of them is having the thought for the same reason, but they are each having it independently. That is, Jane's thought has no causal connection to Clone Jane's thought, and Jane does not have any direct access to Clone Jane's thought. And vice versa/ Their thoughts have similar (parallel) explanations, but no direct linkage to one another. So I don't see why this should count as a form of telepathy.

One way to put the point: Though Jane and Clone Jane "share a thought" in the sense that they each have an independent mental state with identical content, they do not "share a thought" in the sense that they each have access to the very same mind/brain state.

If someone is believed to be insane, yet they are happy and are not dangerous to

If someone is believed to be insane, yet they are happy and are not dangerous to themselves or others, what right does anyone have to force them to be treated or hospitalized? To them we may all seem insane, so do they have the right to ask us to change? What if bringing them closer to our definition of sanity leads them to additional pain or difficulty in life-- is it just to rob them of their former happiness by forcing them to conform to our definitions of sanity?

Hm, good question. But does your question have an implicit premise -- that we do, or think we should, 'force' such people to change? When your conditions are truly met -- they're happy, not dangerous, and, presumably, adequately self-sufficient -- I'm not sure many people DO think we should treat them 'just for the sake of sanity' .... There's a nice novel called "Unless," by Carol Shields, that partly explores these themes -- a young woman suddenly decides to adopt a very alternative lifestyle and her very conventional mother can't help but think there must be something 'wrong' or 'mentally unstable' about her -- raises the question of when does 'difference' become 'illness' -- which I think is just underneath the surface of your question ....

hope that helps--

best, ap

Do people who are blind, deaf and mute since birth dream? If so how?

Do people who are blind, deaf and mute since birth dream? If so how?

I don't know the answer to this question -- I mean the how question rather than the whether, for everyone dreams -- and it sounds (from the fact that he is resorting to words like 'presumably') like Andrew Pessin doesn't know either. For it's really a question for empirical psychologists, not philosophers, and the fact is that I haven't read their studies on the subject -- if, indeed, any such studies have been made. Even just anecdotal evidence should be treated with caution, and is likely to be little more reliable than armchair speculation. But, with that caveat, I am reminded of a talk I once heard from the philosopher, Elizabeth Anscombe, for she did have some anecdotal evidence to bring to the table here. She recalled speaking to a blind (though admittedly not deaf) friend of hers, and asking him what his dreams were like. She was naturally presuming that he would say something like, "I dream about how things sound, and feel, and taste, and smell." So she was a little surprised by the answer he actually gave. "Well, I just dream that things are the case".

Billions of dollars are spent each year to get people to think in ways that

Billions of dollars are spent each year to get people to think in ways that benefit people with billions to spend. This much seems uncontroversial. Most of the money is spent on advertisements designed to circumvent a person's reason and appeal directly to people's unreflected faculties. For those who have read anything about this history of public relations this is also perfectly understood. So how does a reasonable person deal with this knowledge? Is it reasonable to resist, to cloister oneself in defense of the ability to think somewhat more freely? It seems like you could go crazy trying to do so. On the other hand it seems like sanity has more to do these days with resembling sitcom families and having Burger King jingles running through our heads. Okay, so obviously you can tell I'm a paranoid nutjob with a tenuous grip on reality. Am I right to be overwhelmed by what seems like a ubiquitous attack against rationality in the culture at large? Is it paranoid to suggest that it's systematic?

If empirical evidence is the ultimate validation of reality, then what is the

If empirical evidence is the ultimate validation of reality, then what is the empirical evidence for existence of mind?

Couldn't "empirical evidence" include that of which we are aware, during consciousness? Is there a major problem in holding that we are aware of our "minds", or at least of our 'awareness', which is a mental state or property? And once you've admitted empirical evidence for the existence of your own mind, are there *serious* objections to granting the existence of others? Alternatively, can't we have empirical evidence that is not of the 'direct observation' variety? I see footprints in the sand and I infer that a person recently walked by, because a person walking by would be the best explanation of what i directly observe. Why not allow that 'other people having minds' might be the best explanation for what we do observe, namely the way others behave and speak etc.?

best, ap

If mind is a special form of matter, doesn't it follow that all matter may

If mind is a special form of matter, doesn't it follow that all matter may possess a special form of mind, and that oak trees and lumps of coal have been quietly thinking all this time?

Or stones. They may be quietly thinking of Vienna. (Sorry; irresistible inside joke.)

People who think the mind is material don't think there's some special kind of matter ("Mindium?") that has the power to think. They think that matter appropriately structured and in appropriate relationship with the environment allows organisms to have beliefs, feelings, etc. And "appropriately structured" is best illustrated by things like human brains. The matter in trees and lumps of coal doesn't have anything like the kind of structure that brains do. And so the reasons we have for thinking that purely physical things can have minds don't give us reason to think that just any old physical thing can think.

A footnote: some people have suggested that there's a sort of primitive mental character associated with all matter. The view is called panpsychism. But even panpsychists would generally agree that complex mental processes depend on the right kinds of complex arrangements of matter.

Can we ever truly understand another's point of view? When each one of us is

Can we ever truly understand another's point of view? When each one of us is made up of a different set of experiences and conditioning, and using the "trainings" of life we plug in answers to the perceived questions that surround us, can one really state without a doubt to understand another's mind? The answers might be the same but how we get to them is different, so is it in fact a different answer according to the individual? Sorry i know its a few different questions, but i feel the theme is there.

Let me add a few remarks, not to disagree with Charles Taliaferro, but to help bring the discussion back to earth after wondering about zombies, etc!

I understand quite a bit about my friend Jack's political point of view (we argue often enough in the pub); but I've little idea where he is coming from sexually (what clues I have seem to have no pattern, and a few drunken chats have left me even more mystified). My colleague Jill shares my tastes in music, and we seem to enjoy much the the same concerts and CDs for the same reasons -- when we talk about them, sometimes at length, we seem to be very much on the same wavelength; but in some other respects she's a closed book to me, and the more we discuss, the less I feel that I am "getting" her.

And isn't that how it ordinarily is (when we use "understand" in the ordinary way, not in some fanciful philosopher's sense)? We might understand someone's take on X very well, find it difficult to get on their wavelength on Y but sort-of understand, and are at a loss to grasp where they are coming from on Z. But note the fact that we just can't, perhaps, get a real feel for their point of view on Z -- our experiences, history, tastes, cultural background, sexuality are too different -- doesn't mean that we can't truly understand their take on X. It isn't an all-or-nothing business, "understanding another's point of view".

Even our nearest and dearest have hidden corners that remain puzzling; but that doesn't stop us understanding a lot about them. Does that mean we should agree, "I don't truly understand her mind"? Say that if you will; but it can be equally true to say "having lived with her for twenty years, I understand her inside out". Both are exaggerations, that can usefully be used on different occasions to help point up different facets of the no doubt messy and complicated situation.

I recently had a colonoscopy under an anesthetic that caused complete amnesia.

I recently had a colonoscopy under an anesthetic that caused complete amnesia. An observer could see I was in extreme pain during the procedure yet I have no recollection. How does a philosopher think about the pain I experienced but do not recall?

Daniel Dennett discussed a fictional drug that he called an "amnestic" that allows you to feel pain, but paralyzes you so that you don't exhibit pain behavior, and leaves you with amnesia. Pleasant, no? For the details and his philosophical analysis, read:

Dennett, Daniel C. (1978), "Why You Can't Make a Computer that Feels Pain", Synthese 38(3) (July): 415-456; reprinted in his Brainstorms: Philosophical Essays on Mind and Psychology (Montgomery, VT: Bradford Books (now Cambridge, MA: MIT Press), 1978): 190-229.

When I see myself through Freudian glasses, my behaviors, fears, and

When I see myself through Freudian glasses, my behaviors, fears, and understanding suddenly make sense. I can see how I might have repressed certain feelings which, as an adult, have led me to behave neurotically; and I can see how cultures, in order to deal with social anxieties, create political institutions and cultivate their own forms of art. When I think of the world from a Freudian perspective, everything makes sense. When I read theorists like Adorno and Horkheimer, Freud makes even more sense. But we're told that modern neuroscience has largely done away with Freud's ideas, or at least revised them so drastically that we wouldn't recognize them as belonging to Freud. What do we then do with the body of literature that seemed to clarify so much of our behavior, now that scientists are telling us that it's based on a pseudoscience? In particular, I'm reading Hermann Hesse's novel Demian right now. It mirrors my own experiences of growing up, searching for meaning, and trying to overcome the...

The great poet W. H. Auden wrote, in "In Memory of Sigmund Freud":

"If often he was wrong and, at times, absurd

To us is no more a person

Now but a whole climate of opinion."

Freud's 'deepening' of the mind is now, I think--and rightly so--part of our 'folk psychology': that is, we understand each other at least in part in terms of categories derived from Freud. If the existence of the unconscious does not admit of 'scientific' confirmation--as its critics allege--or if those criticisms rest on overly narrow conceptions of what scientific confirmation amounts to--as its defenders allege--the fact is, as Auden's poem and considerable other work testifies, we live now in a post-Freudian age, and we now understand ourselves in terms of categories inherited from Freud.

It has been claimed that Freud's categories have no more relevance to lived experience than the Greek gods, in response to which I simply ask you to consider whether the testimony of your own experience counts for or against the applicability of Freud's categories. Although I would submit that the most relevant evidence emerges in the course of the psychoanalytic 'hour'--i.e., 50 minutes, the next-best test of their applicability comes, I think, in everyday experience.

If you prefer not to become embroiled in the debates about whether psychoanalysis is a science--fruitless debates, to my mind, since they presuppose a conception of science to which Freud may well have subscribed but which may are not well suited to psychoanalysis (Freud may have been a genius, but we now stand on his shoulders, we can see further than he did)--then think of psychoanalysis as a tool for self-knowledge. If psychoanalysis, or psychoanalytic categories, enable you to understand yourself, then by all means continue to use them. Don't worry any more about their 'scientific' credentials than you would worry about the 'scientific' credentials of useful principles of literary interpretation.