Ideas Matter 2000 | Minds, Machines and Animals
The lecture series for 2000 focused on what is uniquely human, by exploring the triangular comparisons between humans, animals and machines. The French philosopher Rene Descartes clearly expressed this comparison in the fifth discourse in the Discourse on Method. This lecture series is going to last all year. In the fall quarter, we wil mainly be considering historical moments in the comparison of humans with animals and machines, Descartes, Hobbes and the Duchess of Newcastle, Locke and Darwin. In the winter we will take up the topic of minds and machines and in the spring animals and minds.
This page will introduce you to the theme of this year's IDEAS MATTER lecture series and provides links to other pages which will give you the schedule, information about the speakers, the text of some of the lectures, and information about Phl. 450 -- the class which accompanies the lecture series. The lecture series is going to be different in that it is going to continue through the course of the entire academic year -- from October to May. In Fall quarter we will mainly be concerned with historical moments in the development of the comparisons of people with animals and machines -- Descartes, Hobbes and Cavendish, Locke, Darwin and others. In the Winter quarter we will focus on minds and machines, and in the Spring on minds and animals.
Topics and Speakers this year included:
Introduction to Minds, Animals and Machines: Descartes and Discourse V Panel Discussion: Bill Uzgalis and Jon Dorbolo
Support and Acknowledgment
The IDEAS MATTER lecture series now has an endowment. (You can find out about this on the IDEAS MATTER web site.) The endowment is growing but presently it is not large enough to pay the costs of this year's series. The units on the Oregon State University which have contributed funds to make this lecture series possible are:
The IDEAS MATTER lecture series is regularly a collaborative and interdisciplinary effort that brings speakers from not only from other departments, but other universities. So this year we have speakers from the Computer Science and History Departments at OSU as well as philosophers from Lewis and Clarke College in Portland and the University of Oregon, the University of Wisconsin, the University of California, Berkeley, and Louisiana State University.
Our theme in this year's lecture series is one of the great themes of philosophy -- self knowledge. The question is what are we? What is a human being? There are a variety of ways one can approach this intriguing question. The way in which we are going to explore the question comes from Descartes' Discourse on Method. It is a process of triangular comparison and contrast between people, animals and machines. How is this supposed to help us know ourselves? On the one hand, it seems natural to compare ourselves with our fellow beings -- the other animals and living things, the creatures of the animate world -- to see what we share with them and in what ways we are unique. Machines, on the other side, particularly in the form of computers and robots, also make for an interesting comparison. Could it happen that you could mistake a robot for a person or a person for a robot? Certainly these kinds of confusions happen regularly in science fiction. What then is true about computers and robots in 2001? Reflecting on how they are the same and how they are different from us may provide us with insight into our own nature. We may also come to see surprising and unexpected connections between animals and machines. In what follows I try to develop some of the main themes we can expect to appear and reappear as the lecture series continues.
From Descartes to Turing
Descartes sees humans as quite distinct from and superior to both animals and machines. Sometimes this view is identified with the entire Western intellectual tradition. But this is something of a mistake. Descartes, for example, is reacting to the writings of Michel de Montaigne who, to reduce the pride of human beings, made a considerable point about ways in which animals are superior to humans. In this competing tradition animals are viewed as either like us in having reason or different, but superior in other ways. These issues about similarity and difference are fundamental to our project. Should we see the other animals and living things as being like us and so being rated in some scale of importance by how much they are like us? (Thus we start taking chimpanzees and orangutans seriously when we discover they can, unlike the rest of the other animals, recognize themselves in a mirror.) Or are they basically quite different, but still valuable for other reasons. This issue about anthropomorphism is one which Elliott Sober, a well known philosopher of biology will take up early in fall quarter and which Daniel Povinelli will return to in spring quarter. One can, of course, ask a similar kind of question about machines. Descartes clearly thinks that one can compare humans with animals, and that humans are superior to animals. Why does he think this?
Descartes is a mind body dualist and the way he makes the comparison between humans and animals in the Discourse on Method reflects this. For Descartes, the mind is an immaterial substance, a thinking thing that does not occupy space. Bodies, by contrast are essentially space occupiers. Descartes holds that what is unique to humans is reason, ethics, free will and immortality. Descartes holds that animals are determined and mortal, and lack the kind of reason which one finds in an immaterial and immortal soul. The immortality of the soul is a necessary condition for ethics. (It is clear that people often do good or bad things in this life for which they go unrewarded or unpunished. Presumably these problems with desert and justice are remedied in the next world.) So there is a metaphysical gulf between humans and other animals -- though the human body is an animal body, it has connected with it an immaterial soul which no other animal possesses. Thus, animal cognition, if there is such a thing, is fundamentally different from human cognition.
What then of machines? Surely (one might think), the notion of a robot belongs to our time. But, in fact, this is not the case. Descartes was familiar with the hydraulic statues in French royal parks that moved when you stepped on a plate. There were stories, some of which went back to antiquity, about remarkable machines which could fly or walk, or do other remarkable things. Descartes, himself, was a member of a new movement that saw the world as a great machine created by God, and which was to be explained mechanistically. In Discourse V, Descartes claims that animal bodies (including the human body) are machines made by God.
These tests which Descartes proposes are tests of intelligence. These tests are somewhat like the famous Turing Test of our times. Turing was one of the original developers of the electronic digital computer. In a paper in 1950 he predicted that by 2000 computers could pass a test to determine if they could think. The idea of Turing's test came from a British parlor game in which someone would pose questions to try to determine which of the persons answering her questions was a man and which a woman. In the Turing test, a person poses questions to another person and a computer without initially knowing which is which. Turing's point was that if the computer could answer questions in such a way that the interlocutor could not tell which was the person and which the computer, this would be good evidence that the computer could think. Descartes clearly thinks that no machine has the linguistic and general problem solving abilities which human beings have because they have reason. There are interesting similarities and differences between Descartes' tests and those of Turing which we will explore.
Descartes and Turing are connected by the problem of other minds. I know what is going on in my mind by introspection. But I do not have similar access to your mind or indeed any other. So, how do I know that there are other minds than my own? Descartes solves this problem by an argument from analogy. Because other people's behavior is like mine, I assume that there is a similar connection between their behavior and their minds as there is between my behavior and my mind. The Turing test, on the other hand, represents a behaviorist criterion of intelligence. Behaviorists believe that intelligence, or mental states in general should be defined by there being an appropriate relation between stimulus and response. What goes on in between is of no importance. So, the similarity between Descartes and Turing is rather surprising. Nonetheless, both Descartes and the behaviorist must focus on behavior in deciding whether things have minds. We will hear much about the Turing test and the failure of Turing's prediction that computers would pass the test in 50 years from Professor James Moor of Dartmouth College. John Searle of U.C. Berkeley is famous for arguing that neither the Turing test nor more powerful functional theories of mind make plausible the claim that machines can think. Searle argues that we are profoundly different kinds of beings than digital electronic computing machines. Thomas Diderich and Gene Korienek (along with Bill Uzgalis) will provide some different perspectives on robots and their relations to human minds and the animal world.
From Descartes to Darwin
Descartes sees people as profoundly different from other animals. The view that the world is a great machine and God a great clock maker continued to be a well accepted view from the time of Descartes to that of Charles Darwin in the 19th century. Darwin offered a powerful challenges to both these views. A number of interesting developments occurred along the way. Lisa Sarashon from the OSU History Department will consider some contrasting views to those of Descartes. The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, a contemporary of Descartes, championed a form of materialism and determinism.
Bill Uzgalis of the OSU Philosophy Department will explain how some of the reactions to Descartes' views give us some of the elements of the modern psychological view of the self, and a trans-species concept of the person. John Locke, in the next generation after Descartes and Hobbes, strongly endorses the view that animal and human bodies are machines or are like machines, but rejects Descartes view that the soul is the bearer of personal identity. Locke replaces the soul as the bearer of personal identity with consciousness. Aristotle had said that man is a rational animal. In making man an animal and person something that is different from man, Locke develops at least the possibility of a trans-species concept of a person. It is, however, with Darwin, that we find the strongest break with the Cartesian view of the place of people in the natural world. Darwin rejects the view that God made the world machine for the use of people. He also gives naturalistic accounts of the origin of ethics and the nature of reason. Janet Browne in the fall and William Rottschaefer and Lisa Sideris in the spring will help us understand various aspects of Darwin's thought.
Rene Descartes was a famous French scientist and philosopher. In the fifth discourse in his Discourse on Method, Descartes claimed that while we could make a machine which we could not distinguish from a monkey or other animal, we could not do this with a human being. Thus Descartes began our project of comparing humans, animals and machines and claimed that humans who have reason, ethics, free will an immortality were very different from animals and machines.
Margaret Cavendish was an English noble woman who wrote and engaged in the philosophical discussions of her day. She had read Descartes and Hobbes, and argued against dualism and for the rationality and dignity of animals. She rejected the claim that humans have a superior status in the hierarchy of nature.
Charles Darwin was the famous English naturalist who developed the theory of evolution through the mechanism of natural selection. Darwin defended the view that humans were part of the natural world and that rather than being vastly different from other animals, our most unique characteristics--reason and ethics, for example, have naturalistic origins. Thus Darwin sought to reduce the gulf between humans and other animals which Descartes had championed.
Ada Lovelace was an English mathematician who responded to proposals for the development of calculating machines by predicting that such a machine might be used to compose complex music, to produce graphics, and would be used for both practical and scientific use. She is also famous for holding that in doing so, such a calculating machine would not be genuinely creative.
Alan Turing was a famous English mathematician and one of the creators of one of the first electronic digital computers. Turing and his colleagues wondered from the beginning if one could say that the machines they were building could think. In a famous paper, published in 1950 Turing proposed a test to determine if computers could think and made the prediction that by 2000 the machines would have enough memory and other capabilities to pass his test.
Introduction to Minds, Animals and Machines: Descartes and Discourse V
October 12, 2000 - 4:00 pm MU East Forum
Descartes distinction between animals and people plays an important role in Locke's distinction between man and person. Locke's reaction to Descartes leads to the creation of an essentially psychological and a trans-species conception of person.
What's Wrong with Anthropomorphism?
October 16, 2000 4:00 pm MU East Forum
October 26, 2000 4:00 pm MU East Forum
Mr. Locke's Parrot: On animals, men, and persons
November 2, 2000 4:00 pm MU East Forum
Darwin in Caricature
November 7, 2000 4:00 pm MU 208
Janet Browne is a lecturer in the History of Biology at the Wellcome Institute in London. She was formerly a research fellow at Harvard University and associate editor of the Correspondence of Charles Darwin. She is the author of the most recent, and arguably the best, biography of Darwin-Voyages.
Does the Turing Test Have a Future?
January 18, 2001 4:00 pm LaSells Stewart Center
Artificial Intelligence and Rational Behavior
January 25, 2001 4:00 pm MU East Forum
This talk will be in two parts. First, I will explore definitions of "intelligence" based on the work of Stuart Russell. Artificial intelligence research has pursued (at least) four distinct definitions of "intelligence", and these definitions vary along two axes. One axis concerns whether intelligence is a characteristic of behavior or of mechanism. That is, if two different mechanisms give the same behavior, must we judge the behavior as intelligent, or does the mechanism matter? The second axis is whether intelligence is measured relative to human behavior (or human mechanisms) or relative to some normative definition of correct behavior (or correct mechanism). The dominant definition in the field of artificial intelligence is that intelligence should be defined in terms of behavior measured normatively. However, a surprising consequence of adopting this definition is that the optimal behavior of a bounded agent depends on the "hardware" available to that agent. This is because different agents (composed of different "hardware") confront different tradeoffs and adopt different solutions. The result is that human intelligence and machine intelligence are likely to be very different, because their hardware is different. Hence, mechanisms matter, even under a behavioral definition of "intelligence".
Robots: emergent properties and collective decisions
February 1, 2001 4:00 pm MU East Forum
This presentation will consider connections between machines and biological organisms (including people) in terms of comparisons between the design of the decision making process for a robot arm and various phenomena in nature which we believe can best be explained as emerging from the interaction of phenomena based on a few simple rules rather than from a top down imposition of order.
Consciousness, Free Will and the Brain
Artificial Life and Evolutionary Theory
March 1, 2001 4:00 pm MU East Forum
This talk considers the intersection between foundational work in evolutionary genetics and computer science. Specifically, I discuss the intersection of mathematical population genetics with the development of adaptive programs. What has one field taught the other? That is, what has biological life taught us about artificial life? What has artificial life taught us about biological life?
The Mentality of Apes Revisited
April 12, 2001 4:00 pm MU East Forum
Are Dolphins Just Whistling Gavagai? Methodology in Cognitive Ethology
April 19, 2001 4:00 pm MU East Forum
Evolutionary Ethics: How to Get Good People from Selfish Genes and Nasty Environments
April 26, 2001 4:00 pm MU East Forum
One Step Up, Two Steps Back: Ethics, Aesthetics, and Savagery in Darwin's Theory of Evolution
May 3, 2001 4:00 pm MU East Forum
The Aesthetics of Reason: How Thought is Grounded in the Body
May 10, 2001 4:00 pm MU East Forum
Human conceptualization and reasoning grow out of our animal, bodily engagement with our environment. I will survey recent research in the cognitive sciences that shows how structures of perception, bodily movement, and emotional response play an indispensable role in all aspects of our thought and language. These structures of meaning and thought are aesthetic in character. Once we recognize that such aesthetic dimensions lie at the heart of human understanding, we are forced to reconsider most mainstream theories of concepts, language, and reasoning. Even the very nature of philosophy itself is called into question.