Computing the Mind: A Scientific Approach to the Philosophy of Mind and Brain

By Hinrichs, Bruce | The Humanist, March-April 1998 | Go to article overview

Computing the Mind: A Scientific Approach to the Philosophy of Mind and Brain


Hinrichs, Bruce, The Humanist


For centuries, philosophers have puzzled over the mind-body problem -- the captivating enigma that asks how subjective mental states are connected to our objective physical biology. In this century, neuroscientists have made spectacular achievements in describing the cellular and molecular actions of the nervous system, while cognitive psychologists have indirectly observed and measured mental and psychological functions, sometimes with ingenious experimental methodology and often borrowing brain-imaging techniques from neuroscience.

The most recent contributors to the mind-body topic are computer network experts who study how individual elements interact in a systematic way, producing computational processes which give rise to information processing and artificial intelligence. Pioneers such as Alan Turing, John von Neumann, Warren McCulloch and Walter Pitts, and, more recently, Patricia Churchland an Terrence Sejnowski have provided an analysis of systems at a higher level than the typical biomedical approaches of neuroscience and at a lower level than the macro states and behaviors favored by psychologists. By examining neural networks, these researchers hope to uncover just how individual cells combine to create emergent phenomena which are more than the sum of their parts.

Of course, in each cast the attention is on the human brain as the locus of mental and psychological functions. Computer guru Marvin Minsky has called the brain a "meat machine" and a machine that "clanks softly." Viewing the brain as a soft computational machine allows an interesting commentary on the recent chess match lost by Garry Kasparov to the IBM computer sometimes called Deeper Blue (because it is an improved version of Deep Blue beaten by Kasparov the previous year). in this view, it was not man against machine as much as it was one type of machine -- or process, if you prefer -- against another. As was shown, one process happened to be better at chess than the other.

Critics complain that a digital computer lacks awareness or understanding, that it is just making unconscious computations. But a brain is a type of computer and it has awareness and understanding. A brain also just makes subconscious computations-by neurons creating electrical current and squirting transmitter chemicals. This, of course, is the essential mystery: how can these singularly objective cellular brain events transform into psychological states, moods, and behaviors? The consciousness we experience is apparently achieved via the interaction of billions of unconscious computational events, which in themselves have no awareness or understanding.

Certainly Deeper Blue was made and programmed by humans, but so was Kasparov! If we're giving credit to Deeper Blue's programmers, then let's give credit to the programmers of Kasparov: his parents, teachers, previous opponents, authors of books he read, and so forth. Also, some machines today are made by other machines, and someday computers will likely be made and programmed by other computers. So what? None of these truths diminishes human integrity, dignity, worth, goals, values, or self-actualization. There is no threat. Brains are better at some things, while silicon digital computers excel at others.

Analogies

Years ago we were told that a human brain functions like a telephone switchboard. I still remember the scratchy 16mm movie that illustrated brain activity as a sequence of switchboard plugs being methodically pulled from and inserted into an impressive array of holes. This analogy was readily embraced throughout society, in and out of schools, and it even sprouted in pedestrian places such as the silly 1972 Woody Allen movie Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask. Allen depicts the brain as a command center for body actions (sex, in this case), which are initiated and regulated via telephone communication.

The days when a brain was likened to a telephone switchboard are thankfully long gone. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Computing the Mind: A Scientific Approach to the Philosophy of Mind and Brain
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.