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Deciding to Deliberate

by: Tomasz Neugebauer

first posted 1998.
updated: August, 2001

page: 5 of 5

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Marvin Minsky, in his Society of Mind, argues that minds are simply "what brains do" and proposes that it is the interaction between many functional autonomous agents that gives rise to intelligent behaviour. Thus, the human mind is proposed to be understood as a collection of agents in the human brain interacting and producing coherent behaviour. Minsky tries to dispel our illusion of unity about ourselves. There is no single me-mind, there is only a single brain within a single body, and the world of conscious thought is actually an enormous mass of interacting feelings, desires, emotions, thoughts and sensations. The majority of the functioning of our brain is hidden beyond our consciousness. However, while we live out our lives as objects of natural selection, we do have the ability to learn and become more successful at life.

Minsky holds that, 'According to the modern scientific view, there is simply no room at all for freedom of the human will. Everything that happens in our universe is either completely determined by what is already happened in the past or else depends, in part, on random chance. Everything, including that which happens in our brains, depends on these and only on these: A set of fixed, deterministic laws. A purely random set of accidents.' (Society of Mind, 306).

Minsky considers freedom of will to be a convenient myth, he says, 'No matter that the physical world provides no room for freedom of will: that concept is essential to our models of the mental realm. Too much of our psychology is based on it for us to ever give it up. We are virtually forced to maintain that belief, even though we know it is false - except of course, when we are inspired to find the flaws in all our beliefs, whatever may be the consequence to cheerfulness and mental peace' (Society of Mind, 307).

Machines and computers have their goals and objectives given or programmed in to them by its creators. Is this not something that makes human beings fundamentally different from machines? The strong AI supporters such as Marvin Minsky argue that this does not make us different from machines. We too, have our goals and objectives programmed into us, by evolution and genes, through our parents and the people we love and admire. The notion of freedom is tied to responsibility, we need to think that we are free in order to be responsible for our actions. Too many of our social structures, and ideas about morality are deeply ingrained and useful in making the world go around for us to reject this idea. Some people believe that we can be understood as though we are simply complex machines, and concepts such as free will,, consciousness, really run along the lines of spirit and soul and are extremely pragmatic illusions.

AI takes aspects of human reasoning and functioning that we understand, and models them with the use of machines. There is a large intellectual leap from this practice to the view that human beings are nothing but complicated problem solving machines that can be modelled with Turing machines.

Debate about the difference between Turing-machines and human beings, as well as the difference between arriving at something computationally and human understanding is extremely rich and diversified. Minsky seems to presents us with a view that has been summarized by Penrose as view A, that 'All thinking is computation; in particular, feelings of conscious awareness are evoked merely by carrying out appropriate computations.' (Penrose, The Large, The Small, and the Human Mind, p101), whereas Penrose himself is an advocate of view C which states that 'Appropriate physical action of the brain evokes awareness, but this physical action cannot even be properly simulated computationally' (Penrose, The Large, The Small, and the Human Mind, p101).

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