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TTC-Philosophy of Mind: Brains, Consciousness, and Thinking Machines :: The Progressive Torrents Community
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TTC-Philosophy of Mind: Brains, Consciousness, and Thinking Machines


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516.88 MB

Date/time added:

2008-10-09 20:31:41

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This is a much-needed update on the TTC lecture series "Philosophy of Mind".

TTC-Philosophy of Mind: Brains, Consciousness, and Thinking Machines

The Teaching Company

(24 lectures, 30 minutes/lecture)

Course No. 4278

Taught by Patrick Grim

State University of New York at Stony Brook

Ph.D., Boston University

The quest to understand the mind has motivated some of history's most profound thinkers. Only in our own time are we beginning to see the true complexity of this quest. In the scientific search for the mind, the role of philosophers is to sharpen our concepts, untangle the morass of questions, and systematically explore alternate approaches. These 24 half-hour lectures will make you think, evaluate your own opinions, and change your mind not a few times as you grapple with the endlessly interesting phenomena of mind.

Nothing in the universe is more mysterious than how the human mind works. Do other people have a mind like yours? How do you know? Is your mind something distinct from your body? Or do ordinary physiological processes produce minds? Could a machine have a mind? What is consciousness? Do you have free will? Is everything you are now experiencing actually happening? Or is that an elaborate illusion created by the mind?

The mind reels at such questions! But philosophy provides powerful tools for investigating the mysteries of thinking, feeling, and perceiving.

What Is Your Mind?

The quest to understand the mind has motivated some of history's most profound thinkers, including Aristotle in antiquity, Ren� Descartes in the 17th century, and William James in the 19th century. Only in our own time are we beginning to see the true complexity of this quest, as today's philosophers draw on the latest evidence from neuroscience, psychology, artificial intelligence, linguistics, and other fields to probe deeply into the inner workings of the mind.

What does philosophy have to say? As Professor Patrick Grim points out, philosophers address the hardest questions of all: those that are unanswered and those that we aren't sure how to answer. In the scientific search for the mind, the role of philosophers is to sharpen our concepts, untangle the morass of questions, and systematically explore alternate approaches.

Your guide to this fascinating subject is Dr. Patrick Grim, an award-winning Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Philosophy of Mind: Brains, Consciousness, and Thinking Machines presents a clear, systematic, and compelling introduction to the philosophy of mind, examining all of the most intriguing questions and influential theories.

Try Thought Experiments

Professor Grim employs an amazingly productive technique for studying the mind�the hypothetical scenario, or thought experiment. Here are some fascinating examples you encounter in this course:

* Brain in a vat: How do you know you are not a brain in a vat, with a completely simulated life? While plausible as science fiction, this picture assumes that the mind could be disembodied. However, the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio and others see strong evidence that feedback from the body is essential to forming a mind.

* Chinese room: The philosopher John Searle imagines a room in which a non-Chinese speaker follows rules for translating Chinese and produces correct answers, without understanding the language. In a powerful critique of artificial intelligence, Searle draws a comparison with computers, arguing that they can't have understanding simply by virtue of manipulating rules and symbols.

* What is it like to be a bat? We all know what it is like to be us, but what is it like to be a bat? No matter how much we know about bat physiology, says philosopher Thomas Nagel, it is impossible to know the subjective experience of the bat. Perhaps no subjective state, such as consciousness, can be understood objectively.

* Are qualia real? Qualia are qualitative experiences such as tastes, smells, and feels. But how real are they? As an example, the philosopher Daniel Dennett cites the typical first reaction to the taste of beer: "What awful stuff!" But suppose you become a beer lover. Has the taste of beer changed? Do you have different qualia? Or do you have the same qualia, but are just reacting differently? Is there a difference?

Explore a Panorama of Theories

Such exercises show what a puzzling phenomenon the mind is! In this course you study all the major theories of mind:

* Dualism: which holds that body and mind are separate substances

* Behaviorism and Functionalism: which stress behavior and interactions with the world as clues to the mind's inner workings

* Idealism: the view that the physical world is an illusion and that only the mental realm exists

* The "antitheories" of mind: which posit that subjective mental experiences are fundamentally inexplicable and will always remain a mystery

These and other philosophical positions all have something going for them. One philosopher's very convincing arguments often diverge radically from what other, equally convincing, philosophers have to say. Because of this, a newcomer to the field can't help but get lost among the contending proposals�unsure what is well supported and what is speculative, where the mainstream is and where the fringe begins. Professor Grim very expertly sorts out all the different approaches, giving the pros and cons of each in an engrossing survey of complex and often controversial intellectual terrain.

What You Learn

Professor Grim opens Lecture 1 with three case histories emblematic of issues that crop up throughout the course:

* Descartes' dream: In 1619, the young Ren� Descartes envisaged a new science in a series of dreams. The core of that science was a radical distinction between minds and bodies, forming the framework for the mind�body problem that stimulates philosophical debate to this day.

* Einstein's brain: A strange saga began after the great scientist's death when his brain was removed without official permission. Its eventual analysis showed that an area associated with mathematical thought had taken over an area associated with language, hinting at the extreme plasticity of brains and minds.

* Babbage's difference engine: Designed in the 1800s, this steam-driven device of steel and brass was markedly different from modern computer hardware. However, it was capable of the same functions as a general-purpose computer, raising the question: Is there anything about a machine that could possibly make it intelligent, or even conscious?

You proceed through a sequence of lectures covering the basic concepts, classical theories, and latest hypotheses in the philosophy of mind, ending in Lecture 6 with a discussion of Functionalism, the dominant trend in current research. The next six lectures pursue the theme of Functionalism, concentrating on perception, our conceptions of ourselves, and minds as they function in the world. (Real robots play an interesting role in this investigation.)

The next six lectures address questions of human versus artificial intelligence: Just how alike and how different are brains and computers? The final six lectures focus on subjective experience and the continuing mystery of consciousness, with a concluding lecture that returns to the three emblematic examples from Lecture 1.

Probe Your Own Mind

One of the most enjoyable features of Philosophy of Mind is the experiments you can do to illuminate surprising aspects of your own mind. Here are some mind probes you learn about in this course:

* Do you have an inner theater? Imagine a pirate. Now describe him down to the number of buttons on his coat without revising your mental picture. If you had an "inner theater a place for fully formed thoughts and perceptions you should be able to look at your mental image and report everything about it. But chances are you make it up as you go along.

* Filling in: By looking at a simple diagram in the booklet accompanying this course, you can find your blind spot the region of your eye lacking photoreceptors, where the optic nerve joins the retina. Normally, we're unaware of this "hole" in our vision, since the brain fills in an appropriate background. Professor Grim also plays a recording of an intriguing auditory version of this phenomenon.

* Phantom limb: Professor Grim describes an experiment you can perform to fool your mind into thinking that a rubber hand or even a coffee cup is part of your own body. This phenomenon may relate to the similar confusions of "body image" that make some amputees feel sensations in their missing limbs.

* Does belief drive perception? Apparently not. To prove this, draw a two-inch horizontal line, mark the midpoint, and then draw a two-inch vertical line from that point. You will see that the vertical line looks longer than the horizontal, despite the fact that you measured them to be identical. Your justified belief that they are the same length can't override your mind's erroneous perception.

Understand Cognitive Science

One of the most exciting research partnerships in recent decades has been the interdisciplinary study of the mind called cognitive science. It draws on neuroscience to chart how bundles of neurons create minds, psychology to illuminate how minds function, linguistics to explain how minds generate language, artificial intelligence to attempt to reproduce the output of minds, and other fields to cover the big picture. Only philosophy takes a synoptic view of this entire project, asking: What do we mean by mind? What are the different components of the mind? How does the mind relate to the body and to the world? And are these even intelligible questions? You find that this course is an incomparable introduction to these issues. It makes you think, evaluate your own opinions, and change your mind not a few times as you grapple with the endlessly interesting phenomena of mind.

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