Minds and Machines


Silver Center 206

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



Annette Martin Office: 313, annette.martin@nyu.edu

Office hours: Wednesday 4:00-6:00 and by appointment

Jake Zuehl Office: 413,  jzuehl@gmail.com

Office hours by appointment




This course examines the conflict between computational and biological approaches to the mind. Is the mind the software of the brain or to be found more in the hardware? Topics covered this semester will be: whether a machine could think or be conscious, the Turing Test, John Searle's arguments against artificial intelligence, whether thinking could be symbol processing, mental imagery, arguments that artificial intelligence is not possible, the inverted spectrum, functional role semantics, whether there is a self, whether the mind is just in the head or partly in the body and the world and whether there is more capacity in consciousness than in cognition. The emphasis will be on whether computational and biological approaches are complementary or whether they conflict; that is, whether the mind is fundamentally computational or whether it is fundamentally neural or whether it can be fundamentally both.



ATTENTION: The final examination will be in class on Thursday, May 4th, the last class.


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 1-4, 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.



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. 


escription: 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.




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 Tuesday, January 31st)

Assignment 2: The Blockhead (Due Tuesday, February 7th)

Assignment 3: The Loebner Prize (Due Tuesday, February 14th)

Assignment 4: Searle's Chinese Room (Due Tuesday, February 21st)

Assignment 5: Smart Machines (Due Tuesday, February 28th)

Assignment 6: Searle's Wall Argument (Due Tuesday, March 7th)

Assignment 7: Inverted Spectrum (Due Tuesday, March 21st)

Assignment 8: Quining Qualia (Due Tuesday, March 28th)

Assignment 9: Overflow (Due Tuesday, April 4th)

Assignment 10: Cohen & Dennett (Due Tuesday, April 11th)

Assignment 11: Functional Role Semantics (Due Tuesday, April 18th)

Assignment 12: Mental Imagery (Due Tuesday, April 25th)

Assignment 13: Non-conceptual content: (Due Tuesday, May 2nd)


Final Exam: May 4th, the last class: questions on the exam will be based closely on the assignments



Readings: Please send me email about broken links

The Turing Test

1.   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.

2.   Jim Holt, "Code-Breaker: The life and death of Alan Turing", New Yorker February 6, 2006

3.   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)

4.   MSNBC on Cleverbot Try Jabberwacky or Mitsuku

5.   Gary Marcus, "What Comes After the Turing Test," New Yorker June 9,2014

6.   David Braddon-Mitchell and Frank Jackson "Four Challenges to Functionalism", pages 107-128 of Philosophy of Mind and Cognition, 2nd Edition, Blackwell, 2007

7.   Dinosaur Comics September 29, 2006, plus commentary

8.   Loebner Prize, recent winners

9.   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

10.        Hugh Loebner, "In Response" (reply to Shieber) Communications of the ACM. 37.6 (June 1994) p79

11.        Stuart Shieber, "On Loebner's Lessons,"  Communications of the Association for Computing Machinery, volume 37, number 6, pages 83-84, 1994.  Or here.

12.        2009 Loebner Prize Transcripts


Extra Readings:

1.    Douglas Hofstadter, "The Turing Test: A Coffeehouse Conversation", from Scientific American. Or here

2.    Douglas Hofstadter, "A Conversation with Einstein's Brain", from the Mind's I. Or here

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

4.    Suggested: Play with some chat-bots, such as Mitsuku, Elbot, Suzette, Jabberwacky or the original: ELIZA

5.    Katie Hafner  "In an Ancient Game, Computing's Future", or here New York Times, August 2002. 

6.    Nico Schlaefer, "Schooling the Jeopardy! Champ: Far From Elementary," Science 331, 2011, p. 999

7.    David Ferrucci, et. al. "Building Watson: An Overview of the Deep QA Project", AI Magazine, Fall 2010, p. 59-79

8.    Stanley Fish, "What Did Watson the Computer Do?"

9.    Douglas Hofstadter, "Why Watson and Siri are not Real AI"

10.Myles Brundage & Joanna Bryson, "Why Watson is Real Artificial Intelligence"


Searle's Chinese Room Argument  

1.    John Searle, "Minds, Brains and Programs" Or a typescript here Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3, 1980, p.417-424

2.    Ned Block, "The Mind as the Software of the Brain", 11.1.2, 11.1.3, 11.1.4, 11.1.5, 11.2

3.    John Haugeland, "Programs, Causal Powers and Intentionality", Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3, 1980, 432-433

4.    Jerry Fodor, Searle on what only Brains can Do, Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3, 1980, 431

5.    Zenon Pylyshyn, "The causal powers of machines", Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3, 1980, 442-444

6.    John Searle, "Author's Response," Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3, 1980. Read responses to Haugeland, Fodor and Pylyshyn, 452-454

7.    Joe Lau & Max Deutsch, Section 2 of SEP article on Externalism About Mental Content (link)

8.    Michael Rescorla, Section 5.2 of SEP article on The Computational Theory of Mind (link)



Extra Readings:

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

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 Think" Scientific American, 262, 1, (JAN) pp. 32-3


Smart machines, and what they can and can't do

1.    Gary Marcus, Why Can't My Computer Understand Me?, New Yorker August14, 2013

2.    John Markoff, Scientists See Promise in Deep-Learning Programs, New York Times, November 23, 2012

3.    Gary Marcus, Is "Deep Learning" a Revolution in Artificial Intelligence?, New Yorker, November 25, 2012

4.    John Markoff, Brainlike Computers, Learning From Experience, New York Times, December 28, 2013

5.    Gary Marcus, Hyping Artificial Intelligence, Yet Again, December 31, 2013


Searle's Wall Argument

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

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

4.    (John Searle, Can Information Theory Explain Consciousness?, New York Review of Books, January 10, 2013

5.    Christof Koch, Giulio Tononi, John Searle, "Can a Photodiode be Conscious?", New York Review of Books, March 7,2013)


Extra Readings:

David Chalmers, "Does a Rock Implement Every Finite-State Automaton?"


The Inverted Spectrum

1.    Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, paragraphs 89-133, 243-315

2.    Alex Byrne, "Inverted Qualia", in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. You could also look at an overlapping article, Alex Byrne and David Hilbert, Introduction to Readings on Color, Volume 1: the philosophy of color, MIT Press, 1997

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

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


Are there Mental Representations?

Robert Epstein, "The Empty Brain", Aeon, 2016. Read the response by Jackson Kernion


Experiments on Phenomenal Consciousness and Access Consciousness

1.        Victor Lamme's Youtube talk

2.        Victor Lamme, V. (2010) "How neuroscience will change our view on consciousness", Cognitive Neuroscience, 1: 3, 204-220

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

4.        Ned Block, "Rich conscious perception outside focal attention", Trends in Cognitive Sciences Vol. 18, Issue 9, p445447, 2014

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

6.        Ian Phillips (2015) "No watershed for overflow: Recent work on the richness of consciousness," Philosophical Psychology, on-line September 24, 2015

7.        Michael Cohen, Daniel Dennett, Nancy Kanwisher, "What is the Bandwidth of Perceptual Experience?" Trends in Cognitive Sciences, May 2016


Extra Reading: Nicholas Shea, Methodological Encounters with the Phenomenal Kind, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. LXXXIV No. 2, March 2012



Functional Role Semantics  

1.    Ned Block, "Semantics, Conceptual Role", Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy  

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

3.    Jerry Fodor, "Tom Swift and his Procedural Grandmother" Cognition Volume 6, Issue 3, 1978, Pages 229-247. (Background to Fodor: P. Johnson-Laird , "Procedural Semantics". Cog. 5 3 (1977), pp. 189 214)

4.    For the Tom Swift allusion, click here.

5.    Jerry Fodor, "Having Concepts; A Brief Refutation Of The 20th Century", Mind & Language 19, 1, 2004, p 29-47. Or here


Mental Imagery 

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

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

3.    Stephen M. Kosslyn, Giorgio Ganis, William L. Thompson, Mental Imagery: Against the Nihilistic Hypothesis, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 7, 3, March, 2003 , 109-111, or here

4.    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.


The Perception/Cognition Divide

1.   Ned Block, A joint in nature between perception and cognition without modularity of mind

2.    Background: Fodor, J. (1983) Chapter 4 of Modularity of Mind: An Essay on Faculty Psychology:




Slides will be posted on Classes after each class.


MIT Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science

Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy





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Religious Observance

As a nonsectarian, inclusive institution, NYU policy permits members of any religious group to absent themselves from classes without penalty when required for compliance withtheir religious obligations. The policy and principles to be followed by students and faculty may be found here: The University Calendar Policy on Religious Holidays (http://www.nyu.edu/about/policies-guidelines-compliance/policies-and-guidelines/university- calendar-policy-on-religious-holidays.html)

Disability Disclosure Statement

Academic accommodations are available to any student with a chronic, psychological, visual, mobility, learning disability, or who is deaf or hard of hearing. Students should please register with the Moses Center for Students with Disabilities at 212-998-4980.

NYU's Henry and Lucy Moses Center for Students with Disabilities 726 Broadway, 2nd FloorNew York, NY 10003-6675Telephone: 212-998-4980

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