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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An I-opening experience, 23 Nov 2005
This review is from: The Mind's I: Fantasies and Reflections on Self and Soul (Penguin Press Science) (Paperback)
After writing the magnificent 'Godel, Escher, Bach', for which he won a Pulitzer Prize, computer scientist Douglas Hofstadter (a professor at my alma mater, Indiana University) collaborated with philosopher Daniel Dennett on this anthology of essays and stories that explore the areas of human and artificial intelligence.
What is the mind? What is the self? Is there really a soul? Are feelings and emotions artificial constructs of information bits inside of us, and if so, is it possible that machines can think and feel for themselves?
For that matter, do we truly think and feel for ourselves?
Hofstadter and Dennett have selected pieces that approach these questions from many angles, from hard-science observational techniques to spirituality dimensions in stories. Each piece is followed by a reflection that sets the context of the piece in relation to the larger question of intelligence.
Contributors include mathematician Rudy Rucker ('Infinity and the Mind'), philosophers Raymond Smullyan (perhaps best known for logic puzzles) and Robert Nozick, literary figures such as Jorge Luis Borges and Stanislaw Lem, and pioneers in the field such as Alan Turing.
The editors use a section of Turing's early article on 'Computing Machinery and Intelligence' from 1950 to set up much of the subsequent discussion. One often overlooked idea from Turing, oddly popular among British scholars of the first half of the twentieth century (and still more prevalent among British scholars and intellectuals than those of other cultures) is the idea of ESP and paranormal abilities. Turing felt that the final difference between machine-thinking, once it had reached full potential, and human thinking would be that humans have the capacity for ESP and other such abilities.
Turing's foundational point rests on the answer to and the meaning of the question, will a machine ever think? Turing's answer to this is yes, and upon this assumption, the meaning of a machine thinking becomes the critical determinant. People infuse too much emotionalism into the question, Turing thought. Ironically, half a century after Turing and two decades after publication of The Mind's I, people watch depictions of thinking machines in science fiction shows without a second thought, even as these shows explore the connection between thinking and emotion.
As many of the essays and stories make clear, it is often as much the way the question is asked as it is the content of the answer that can make a difference in the way the observer reacts and interprets. And yet, it becomes difficult to distinguish linguistic intelligence, intellect, and 'having a soul'. One question that is addressed can serve as illustration: Do animals have souls? For instance, does a chimpanzee with with partial linguistic ability learned in a laboratory and greater ability to care for herself and her offspring have more of a soul than an human being who is physical and mentally impaired? Almost everyone would say no, but how this difference is characterised becomes difficult in many contexts.
Terrel Miedaner has an intriguing set of stories, 'The Soul of Martha, a Beast' and 'The Soul of the Mark III Beast', which explores the fuzzy dividing line between the way in which we think of human feelings, animal feelings, and potentially even machine emotional responses. Part of the analysis of Hofstadter and Dennett focuses upon the construction of the stories, which are purposefully designed to evoke human emotional responses to anthropomorphised creatures. But this begs the question -- if we can anthropomorphise them, to what extent might they in fact have elements in common with human beings that make them worthy of consideration on a human level?
Issues such as the difference between education and programming, free will and determined patterns, conscious and unconscious potentials, and (perhaps both most maddening and enlightening) the difference between reality, apparent reality, belief, and thought about belief (see Smullyan's 'An Epistemological Nightmare').
This is a very entertaining, often witty, occasionally disturbing book, that presents these philosophical problems in an accessible format.
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