Herbert A. Simon
I shall be concerned in these remarks with the impact of technology on our understanding of the mind and on our knowledge of how it works. The central conclusion is a very simple one, and perhaps it is best if I state it first and then show in general terms just what it means: At the present time, with ordinary general-purpose electronic computers, we can simulate many kinds of human thinking. By simulating human thinking we can provide an explanation for a number of the important processes that take place in the brain when thinking is going on.
What do we mean by "explanation" in this context? How can we explain human thinking or explain the processes that go on in the human brain by simulating those processes with an electronic computer? We can explain phenomena at many levels. This is a familiar enough procedure in the natural sciences. In genetics, for example, the pioneering work of Mendel explained the statistical frequency of certain varieties of plants in terms of the crossing of the parent plants. It was only a rather long time after Mendel that the same phenomena were explained at the next level, in terms of underlying biological mechanisms, the genes and the chromosomes. Thus, the explanation of observables took place first at a macroscopic or gross level, to be followed after several generations by explanation of the same behavior at a biological level, in terms of biological structures and their processes.
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Publication information: Book title: Man and Civilization: Control of the Mind:A Symposium. Contributors: Seymour M. Farber - Editor, Roger H. L. Wilson - Editor. Publisher: McGraw-Hill. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1961. Page number: 219.
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