[ExI] Is Mind a machine?

citta437 at aol.com citta437 at aol.com
Thu Dec 20 21:17:11 UTC 2007

"Mechanical Mind

Gilbert Harman
Mind as Machine: A History of Cognitive Science. Margaret A. Boden. Two 
volumes, xlviii + 1631 pp. Oxford University Press, 2006. $225.

The term cognitive science, which gained currency in the last half of 
the 20th century, is used to refer to the study of cognition—cognitive 
structures and processes in the mind or brain, mostly in people rather 
than, say, rats or insects. Cognitive science in this sense has 
reflected a growing rejection of behaviorism in favor of the study of 
mind and "human information processing." The field includes the study 
of thinking, perception, emotion, creativity, language, consciousness 
and learning. Sometimes it has involved writing (or at least thinking 
about) computer programs that attempt to model mental processes or that 
provide tools such as spreadsheets, theorem provers, 
mathematical-equation solvers and engines for searching the Web. The 
programs might involve rules of inference or "productions," "mental 
models," connectionist "neural" networks or other sorts of parallel 
"constraint satisfaction" approaches. Cognitive science so understood 
includes cognitive neuroscience, artificial intelligence (AI), robotics 
and artificial life; conceptual, linguistic and moral development; and 
learning in humans, other animals and machines.

Among those sometimes identifying themselves as cognitive scientists 
are philosophers, computer scientists, psychologists, linguists, 
engineers, biologists, medical researchers and mathematicians. Some 
individual contributors to the field have had expertise in several of 
these more traditional disciplines. An excellent example is the 
philosopher, psychologist and computer scientist Margaret Boden, who 
founded the School of Cognitive and Computing Sciences at the 
University of Sussex and is the author of a number of books, including 
Artificial Intelligence and Natural Man (1977) and The Creative Mind 
(1990). Boden has been active in cognitive science pretty much from the 
start and has known many of the other central participants.

In her latest book, the lively and interesting Mind as Machine: A 
History of Cognitive Science, the relevant machine is usually a 
computer, and the cognitive science is usually concerned with the sort 
of cognition that can be exhibited by a computer. Boden does not 
discuss other aspects of the subject, broadly conceived, such as the 
"principles and parameters" approach in contemporary linguistics or the 
psychology of heuristics and biases. Furthermore, she also puts to one 
side such mainstream developments in computer science as data mining 
and statistical learning theory. In the preface she characterizes the 
book as an essay expressing her view of cognitive science as a whole, a 
"thumbnail sketch" meant to be "read entire" rather than "dipped into."

It is fortunate that Mind as Machine is highly readable, particularly 
because it contains 1,452 pages of text, divided into two very large 
volumes. Because the references and indices (which fill an additional 
179 pages) are at the end of the second volume, readers will need to 
have it on hand as they make their way through the first. Given that 
together these tomes weigh more than 7 pounds, this is not light 

Boden's goal, she says, is to show how cognitive scientists have tried 
to find computational or informational answers to frequently asked 
questions about the mind—"what it is, what it does, how it works, how 
it evolved, and how it's even possible." How do our brains generate 
consciousness? Are animals or newborn babies conscious? Can machines be 
conscious? If not, why not? How is free will possible, or creativity? 
How are the brain and mind different? What counts as a language?

The first five chapters present the historical background of the field, 
delving into such topics as cybernetics and feedback, and discussing 
important figures such as René Descartes, Immanuel Kant, Charles 
Babbage, Alan Turing and John von Neumann, as well as Warren McCulloch 
and Walter Pitts, who in 1943 cowrote a paper on propositional 
calculus, Turing machines and neuronal synapses. Boden also goes into 
some detail about the situation in psychology and biology during the 
transition from behaviorism to cognitive science, which she 
characterizes as a revolution. The metaphor she employs is that of 
cognitive scientists entering the "house of Psychology," whose lodgers 
at the time included behaviorists, Freudians, Gestalt psychologists, 
Piagetians, ethologists and personality theorists.

The brain is a processing machine as describe above. But it generates 
more questions than answers. How does the brain generate consciousness? 
How are the brain and mind different? Some of us describe how it 
functions but who is behind the machine? Is there one controler? Marvin 
Minsky wrote a book "Thoughts Without a Thinker." Where did thoughts 
originate then?

If you said it originated in consciousness, then we are back to square 
one. Dreams are triggered by our subconscious according to Freud. 
Cognitive scientists use both objective and subjective means to study 
the brain's behavior. They discovered that the mind is a behavior of 
the brain just as consciousness is one of it's functions. Common sense 
tells us without this physical brain, there is no cognition, no 
feelings and no consciousness.

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