Re: What Is a Machine?

From: HARNAD Stevan (
Date: Thu Feb 29 1996 - 20:43:32 GMT

> From: Herheim Aaste <>
> Date: Wed, 28 Feb 1996 22:28:05 GMT
> To most people it would be a contradiction to say
> that a machine has a mind or that human beings are machines.

It can't be a contradiction until you say what is and is not a machine!
(We know what is and is not a human being.)

> I suppose that was what lead to the search for the
> definitions of mind and machine in the first place.

We need to agree on what is and is not a machine, and why. But when it
comes to minds, we already have agreement: Each of us knows we have
one, and we know exactly WHAT it is that we have (experiences,
feelings, though we don't know how these relate to matter: that's the
mind/body or mind/matter problem). The other problem arises when it
comes to anyone ELSE's mind: We know WHAT others might or might not have
(the same kind of thing we do: experiences, feelings), but we don't
know WHETHER they do (that's the other-minds problem).

> People have said different things, e.g. that
> machines are devices made by human beings, that they have
> specific uses etc.

Unfortunately, neither of these criteria has worked. Both people and
artifacts are "made" by people, though so far only artifacts are
designed and built by people (genetic engineering may change all that),
so that does not carve out a principled difference. And people can be
used too.

> I'll start with myself: I do (for some reason)
> believe that I have a mind (and not just a brain..)

No. You KNOW you have a mind (experiences); you merely BELIEVE you have
a brain (although you are right in both cases).

> This notion is probably a culturally imposed "truth" by which I
> define myself.

No. The fact that I feel something when I am pinched is not a culturally
imposed truth; it is a fact of mental life. In fact it is THE fact of
mental life.

> And if I think about it, this mind is
> certainly something that is "man-made" through socialization
> and everyday interaction. If I had been born, brought up and
> educated in a different culture I might not even have the
> academic-cultural background to engage in this discussion!

The contents of your mind would be different, but the FACT that you have
a mind would not. It is that fact that is at issue here.

> Further,I don't really believe that human beings
> have many "original! thoughts,- all we've got is an enormous
> pool of information, knowledge and experiences that we can
> mix together and get some semi-original output from,- but
> all this is "given" to us from the world by which we are
> surrounded,- so my mind is made (even if unintentionally) by
> the social world around me, and would therefore by some
> people's definition qualify as a machine....

This is beginning to wander a bit: Were you going to propose that
something has to be "original" to NOT be a machine? But then some
people are machines and some man-made gadgets (e.g. theorem-discovering
computer programmes) are not machines. (Creativity will be discussed at
the end of the course.)

> So I guess my conclusion is that there is no contradiction
> between something both being a machine and having a mind
> because the mind IS a machine!

Fine, but you haven't said what a mchine is yet, so this amounts to
saying the mind IS an X: But what is (and isn't) X?

Besides, people have minds (feelings), so strictly speaking, if
people are machines, then machines have minds. But first you have to
say what a machine is, before we can decide whether or a person is

> (But only if you believe that
> a machine is defined by being man-made) If you believe that
> a human organism is a machine, I should think that the mind
> would be a part of this and could still be defined as a
> machine....

This, unfortunately, is spinning in a circle. It won't come aground till
you say what is and is not a machine (and why)...

> But I do not believe that we could ever find out what a mind
> really is (it would be too complex for us to understand)

Do you have any support for that belief? It's been said about MANY
things before, and all have eventually been explained...

> and
> even if we did we would not be able to "construct" one
> because it is not made out of "substances" we know...

Oh, really? What is it made out of, then? (Are you not simply restating
the mind/body problem: the problem we all have in seeing how feelings
could be made of matter?)

> Is it a contradiction to believe that my mind to some extent
> is a machine but not believe that this particular machine
> could ever be understood or reproduced?

No, it is not a contradiction. It is merely a belief.
The question is: what evidence and arguments are there to support that
belief? (And what is an X?)

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