Minds and Machines


Silver Center 705

Tuesday and Thursday 3:30-4:45

Professor: Ned Block 
ned.blockat-sign nyu.edu
5 Washington Place 405

212-998-8322 (Note: you will have better luck reaching me by email than by phone)
Office Hours: Thursday 5:00-6:00, 
and by appointment


TAs: Grace Helton, grace.helton at-sign gmail.com

Office hours: Wednesday 10:15-12:15 in 5 Washington Place, Room 414


Wednesday, 12:30-1:45 Location TBA

Wednesday, 3:30-4:45, Location TBA

This course examines the conflict between computational and biological approaches to the mind. Topics covered this semester will be: whether a machine could think, the Turing Test, whether thinking could be symbol crunching, mental imagery, Searle’s arguments against strong artificial intelligence, volition and the function of consciousness, the inverted spectrum, the self and the body


j0336968ATTENTION: The final examination will be in class on Thursday, December 15th, the last class.


Remember, no late papers.  If you miss the deadline for one assignment, just do another.

Read Jim Pryor’s advice on writing a philosophy paper,  Guidelines on Writing a Philosophy Paper


Assignment 1: The Turing Test (Due Thursday, September 15th)


Assignment 2: The Blockhead  (Due Thursday, September 22nd)


Assignment 3: Searle’s “Chinese Room” Argument. (Due Thursday, September 29th)


Assignment 4:  Haugeland (Due Tuesday, October 11th)


Assignment 5:  Searle’s Wall Argument (due Thursday October 20th )


Assignment 6:  Functional Role Semantics (due Tuesday, November 1st)


Assignment 7:  Inverted Spectrum: due Tuesday November 8th


Assignment 8:  Pictorialism vs the Overlap Thesis: due Tuesday November 15th


Assignment 9:  Kosslyn vs Pylyshyn: Due Tuesday November 22nd


Assignment 10: Overflow 1: Due Thursday, December 1st


Assignment 11: Overflow 2: Due Tuesday, December 13th


Assignment 12:  There will not be a 12th assignment



Final Exam: December 15th: questions will be based on the assignments


All readings will be available on the web.  Some will require a password which will be revealed in class and which is also on Blackboard.

The reading for this course is not lengthy but it is difficult material. You should expect to read everything twice.

The readings listed below are tentative and subject to revision throughout the course.


September 6, 8:


September 13:

Block 11.1.1 and Cleverbot

September 15:

Braddon-Mitchell & Jackson, 107-128

September 20:

Shieber & Loebner papers

September 22:

McDermott, Hafner, Fish, Schlaefer, Ferrucci

Focus on the articles about Watson, skim the others

September 27:

Searle: both articles

September 29:

Byrne, Block remaining sections, except 398-400

October  4:


October 6:

Churchland & Churchland

October  11:


October  13:

Searle APA Presidential Address

Block 398-400 of “The Mind as the Software…”

October  18

Block, 2 articles from Routledge Encyclopedia

October  20:

Fodor Tom Swift (Johnson-Laird is background reading)

October  25:

Fodor Brief Refutation

October  27:

Fodor again

November 1:

Byrne, Block

November 3:


November 8:

Tarr, Kosslyn, Ganis & Thompson

November 10:


November 15:


November 17:

Topic Change: Kouider

November 22:

Cohen & Dennett

November 29:

Block Aristotelian Society

December 1:

Block Trends in Cognitive Sciences

December 6:

Reading: Stazicker; Guest lecture by James Stazicker

December 8:


December 13


December 15:

Final Exam



Readings: Please send me email about broken links

The Turing Test

·      A.M. Turing, "Computing Machinery and Intelligence".  Mind 59: 433-460, 1950.  For PDF of published paper, click here.  This PDF requires a password which will be given out in class and which is on the Blackboard site for this course.

·      Ned Block, "The Mind as the Software of the Brain", section 11.1.1, "Machine Intelligence" in An Invitation to Cognitive Science, edited by D. Osherson, L. Gleitman, S. Kosslyn, E. Smith and S. Sternberg, MIT Press, 1995)

·      MSNBC on Cleverbot plus cleverbot itself

·      David Braddon-Mitchell and Frank JacksonFour Challenges to Functionalism”, pages 107-128 of Philosophy of Mind and Cognition, 2nd Edition, Blackwell, 2007

·      Dinosaur Comics September 29, 2006, plus full commentary

·      Stuart Shieber, "Lessons from a Restricted Modern Turing Test"   Communications of the Association for Computing Machinery, volume 37, number 6, pages 70-78, 1994. Published version

·      Hugh Loebner, "In Response" (reply to Shieber) or here  or here

·      Stuart Shieber, “On Loebner’s Lessons,”  Communications of the Association for Computing Machinery, volume 37, number 6, pages 83-84, 1994.  Or here.

·      2009 Loebner Prize Transcripts

·      Drew McDermott, "How intelligent is Deep Blue?"  long version of an op.ed. article in New York Times, May 14, 1997

·      Suggested: Play with some on-line bots, such as this one or this one or this one.

·      Katie Hafner  “In an Ancient Game, Computing’s Future”, or here New York Times, August 2002. 

·      Nico Schlaefer, “Schooling the Jeopardy! Champ: Far From Elementary,” Science 331, 2011, p. 999

·      David Ferrucci, et. al. “Building Watson: An Overview of the DeepQA Project”, AI Magazine, Fall 2010, p. 59-79

·      Stanley Fish, “What Did Watson the Computer Do?”



Searle's Chinese Room Argument  

·      John Searle, "Minds, Brains and Programs” (That link is temperamental, so you can try the issue of the journal here (scroll down), a typescript here or the journal web site here (only useable from NYU))  Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3, 1980, p.417-424

·      John Searle, Watson Doesn’t Know it Won on Jeopardy!, Wall Street Journal, February 23, 2011

·      Ned Block, "The Mind as the Software of the Brain", remaining sections

·      Alex Byrne, “Intentionality”, In Philosophy of Science: An Encyclopedia, ed. J. Pfeifer and S. Sarkar (Routledge, forthcoming)

·      Patricia Churchland and Paul Churchland, Churchland, (1990). “Could a Machine ThinkScientific American, 262, 1, (JAN) pp.  32 —3

·      John Haugeland, “Syntax, Semantics, Physics”, in Views Into the Chinese Room: New Essays on Searle and Artificial Intelligence, edited by John Preston and Mark Bishop, OUP 2002


Searle’s Wall Argument

·      John Searle, "Is the Brain a Digital Computer?"   APA Presidential Address

·      Ned Block, "The Mind as the Software of the Brain", section 11.2.2, p 398-400

·      David Chalmers, “Does a Rock Implement Every Finite-State Automaton?”



Functional Role Semantics  

·      Ned Block, "Semantics, Conceptual Role", Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy  

·      Ned Block, "Holism, Mental and Semantic" , Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy 

The Inverted Spectrum

·      Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, paragraphs 89-133, 243-315

·      Alex Byrne, “Inverted Qualia”, in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

·      Ned Block, “Wittgenstein and Qualia”, Philosophical Perspectives (21, 1) edited by John Hawthorne. 2007: 73-115

·      Daniel Dennett, "Quining Qualia", in A. Marcel and E. Bisiach, eds, Consciousness in Modern Science, Oxford University Press 1988



Mental Imagery 

·      Michael Tarr, “Mental Rotation”, MIT Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science  (or here)

·      Stephen Kosslyn, Giorgio Ganis and William Thompson, Neural Foundations of Imagery, Nature Reviews Neuroscience 2, 9/2001

·      Ned Block, "Mental Pictures and Cognitive Science"  (or here) Philosophical Review  

·      Zenon Pylyshyn, Return of the mental image: Are there pictures in the head?  Or here Trends in Cognitive Sciences 17, 3, 2003, 113-118

·      Stephen M. Kosslyn, Giorgio Ganis, William L. Thompson, Mental Imagery: Against the Nihilistic Hypothesis, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 17, 3, March, 2003 , 109-111, or here

·      Zenon Pylyshyn, Explaining Mental imagery: now you see it, now you don’t: Reply to Kosslyn, et. al., Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 17, 3, March, 2003, 111-112.  Or here


Does Consciousness Overflow Cognition?

·      Sid Kouider, Vincent de Gardelle, Jerome Sackur & Emmanuel Dupoux (2010), How rich is consciousness?  The partial awareness hypothesis. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 14, 301-307.  Background for this article: de Gardelle, V., Sackur, J., & Kouider, S. (2009). Perceptual illusions in brief visual presentations. Consciousness and Cognition, 18(3), 569-577

·      Michael Cohen, & Daniel Dennett (2011) Consciousness cannot be separated from function. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 15, 358-364

·      Ned Block, “Consciousness and Cognitive Access”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 108, Issue 1 pt 3 (October 2008), p. 289-317

·      James Stazicker, (2011) Attention, Visual Consciousness and Indeterminacy. Mind & Language 26, 156-184

·      Ned Block, (2011). "Perceptual consciousness overflows cognitive access." Trends in Cognitive Sciences 15(12) 567-575.

·      Ian Phillips (2011), Perception and Iconic Memory: What Sperling Doesn’t Show, Mind & Language 26, 4, 381-411


Slides will be posted on Blackboard after each class.


MIT Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science

Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy




·      There will be a 3-5 page writing assignment posted each week and due the following week.  You must choose three of these assignments, including one of Assignments 1-3, and one assignment after Assignment 6.

·      There will be a final examination, the questions of which will be very similar to questions on the weekly writing assignments. So you should be satisfied that you understand the questions even for assignments that you do not do in writing.  

·      The writing assignments will normally require statements of positions taken by one of the authors that you've read. These statements should be couched in your own words, explaining how you see what the author has said. No quotations; no paraphrases

·      Grading: Each of the three papers will count for one fifth of the grade, the final will count for one fifth of the grade and participation in class (including section) will be another one fifth.

·      Joint work is encouraged. Arguing about your views with others is the best way to find out where your position leads. If your paper is a product of joint work, all of the participants should turn in their own versions, with the communal ideas stated in each paper in the writer's own words. When you do work together on an assignment, this must be stated on each paper. All participants in joint work get full credit. 


·      finger.gifNO LATE PAPERS.  Papers are due at 5:00 PM on the day indicated. If you can’t get it in by 5 PM, just do the next assignment.




David Chalmers’ Bibliography of Philosophy of Mind, MindPapers