Month: May 2017

5/23: Final Virtual Class Discussion

Read this short text from The Principia Cybernetica website:

The Homunculus problem

“Cartesian materialism is an attempt to keep the mechanistic metaphysics of Descartes while getting rid of the idea on an immaterial soul (dualism). In this philosophy, the mind is seen as a (material) component of the body (e.g. the brain or some component of it) that interacts with the world via the senses and muscles. The philosopher Daniel Dennett has proposed the term “Cartesian theater” to summarize the picture that results when this idea is combined with the reflection-correspondence perspective: the mind somehow sits in a theater where the incoming perceptions are projected as images onto a screen; it looks at them, interprets them, and decides what to do; it sends its decisions as commands to the muscles for execution. In a more modern metaphor, we would describe the situation as if the mind acts as a control center for the body, the way an air traffic controller keeps track of the incoming planes on a radar screen, analyzing the situation, and issuing directions to the pilots. While this picture may seem more satisfying to a scientifically trained mind than Descartes’ ghostly soul, it merely shifts the difficulty.

The fundamental problem with the mind as control center is that it is equivalent to a homunculus (diminutive of the Latin “homo” = human being): a little person watching the theater inside our brain, and reasoning like an intelligent being in order to deal with the situation it observes. However, the point of the exercise was precisely to explain how a person reasons! We have explained the mind simply by postulating another, “smaller” mind (homunculus) within the mind.

Such reasoning leads to an infinite regress. Indeed, to explain how the homunculus functions we must assume that it has a mind, which itself implies another homunculus inside it, which must contain yet another homunculus, and so on. It is as if we are opening a series of Russian dolls the one nested into the other one, without ever coming to the last one. Another way to illustrate the circularity of such reasoning would be to consider a recipe for making cake where one of the ingredients is cake: how can you ever prepare such a cake if you don’t already know how to do it? To evade this paradox, we need to make a radical break with the way of thinking that produced it.”

Watch this clip:

Now do this:

Répondez s’il vous plaît.

Watch the video.

Read the text again, perhaps.

Post a comment.

Wait a while.

Post a reply to a classmate’s comment.

Wait a while longer.

Post a reply to a different classmate’s comment. [This should all be completed by midnight, Thursday, May 25, 2017].

Send me a pdf of your final paper or a link to your project with your write up attached as a pdf. [This should be sent by 6:00 PM, Tuesday, May 23, 2017].


You’ve completed the course.


5/9: Self and Other/Artificial Intelligence

Please select one of the three readings for today – Turing, Fanon, or McGowan – and create a short comment on what idea therein caught your interest. Come prepared to present your thought on the text during discussion. No need to post it as a comment here, but be sure to come to class prepared to discuss your idea on the text. Each of you will be called upon. See you then.