Re: The Mind/Body Problem

From: HARNAD Stevan (
Date: Mon Feb 26 1996 - 18:25:07 GMT

> Date: Mon, 26 Feb 1996 14:28:44 GMT
> From: Bollons Nicholas <>
> sh> People were "created" by us too, so that can't be what decides whether
> sh> or not something has a mind. Perhaps you mean "designed" by us: But why
> sh> should that have anything to do with it? Everyone says this, but no one
> sh> gives a reason why being designed by someone with a mind should
> sh> disqualify a machine from having a mind. It's almost as if you were
> sh> saying that if someone knew how WE were designed (i.e., could build
> sh> us) then WE wouldn't have a mind either...
> Perhaps the person who designed us knew what a mind was (I'm not
> religious but am thinking hypothetically) and so therefore was able to
> install it into our being. It's becoming clear that we do not know what
> the 'mind' is and are therefore unable to put it into these machines
> that can be created.

But if you are not religious, why hypothesise that a person designed us?
Why can't we have been designed the same way the rest of the biological
world was designed: by blind variation and natural selection? Richard
Dawkins coined the clever metaphor of the "Blind Watchmaker" for this
process. The point is that even though evolution does not design organisms
DELIBERATELY, organisms still have designs; and once someone figures out
what they are, it would in principle be possible to build them
deliberately by design. This is not so hard to imagine for the shapes of
their bodies: Why not their minds too? Or at least their (our) behavioural

> If say the 'mind' was a physical entity (call it a quirk - like the
> physicist's Quark) and we could see and manipulate it. Could we then
> take the quirk out of some 'being' and put it into a machine or maybe
> even create it and throw it around add lib ?(here you go Mr Toaster
> have a mind).

If the mind were something we could all see and manipulate, then this
would be a course in cognitive morphology rather than cognitive
psychology (and there would be no mind/body problem)! The whole point is
that the mind is NOT something you can observe (except when
introspecting your own, and even then, you can't tell how it works).

But what MIGHT make sense is to get a machine that could do what we CAN
observe (i.e., behaviour) and hope that if it can DO everything we can
do, then it will have a mind as well.

> Science Fiction explores the idea of robots that have minds of their
> own (Marvin the Paranoid Android in Hitch Hikers Guide etc.) and Stevan
> was talking about these ideas becoming fiction. But it is a little
> difficult to discuss and control something that seems to have no
> physical identity, is un-definable, illusive, and seems not to 'fit
> into' any scientific explanation. And then try to put it into a machine
> ??. We first of all must get at least some grasp as to the being or
> thing (mind) that we have (and maybe animals) and that machines do
> not.

First you have to tell us what a machine is, so we can say what is a
machine and what is not...

> Maybe we do not want to build machines with minds anyway ? They may
> become 'wiser' than us (we like to assume that we are the most advanced
> species on the planet) and topple us from power. The Terminator ?
> (And no: I'm not a S.F nerd it's just that they were useful examples)

That's not the issue in this course. It's not actually building them
that matters, but being ABLE to build them, for it is only when we
can explain the reverse engineering that we can explain the mind.

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