The course introduces students to primary source materials on the mind/body problem and on linguistic criteria for intelligence starting from about 1600 (Galileo and Descartes) to the current day. The main emphasis is on the origins of the mind/body problem and on the mechanical analogies of mind developed since 1500. Students read materials by Galileo, Descartes, Voltaire, Huxley, Darwin, Arnauld, and others. The focus of the class is on the study Cartesian Linguistics, 1966, by Noam Chomsky. We investigate his claim that the ideas about mind, language, and intelligence which are current today parallel closely those of the Cartesians in the 17th century. This course is taught in alternate years. It alternates with V61.0003 Communication: Men, Minds, and Machines, LEP3.
The mind-body problem as formulated by Rene Descartes maintains that there are two "substances," one is body - which we today would call the material world, three dimensional space, and the world in which gravity functions to attract objects. The other is mind - which might be called thought or thinking, feelings, sensations, perception, or psychological objects like imagination, memory, and so on. Two groups argue that the mind-body distinction makes no sense and is a false way of formulating the issues relating to consciousness, intelligence, and human mental processes. The materialists contend that matter, properly organized into computational or logical devices, or biological systems, when it attains a certain level of complexity, will produce mental properties like thought, imagination, and prayer. They maintain that when a system attains a certain critical mass of neurons or transistors, then thought, and everything the Cartesian called mental, will spontaneously arise. The second group -which we will study in some detail (including C.S. Pierce, Woolman, Augustine, and Plato) and which we will call the neo-Platonists, argue that there is no distinction between mind and body. They maintain that thought of the appropriate type and complexity will spontaneously produce a material world. Today this second group seems to maintain an odd position, but at one time it was a, perhaps the, dominant view and presented in quotable slogans like: "In the beginning was the word."
A paper may include a computer program, but an undocumented computer program will not satisfy the requirements of the course. A term paper may include a program as a part, but the program must be fully documented as to (a) what problem is solved by the computer program, (b) why the problem is significant in linguistics or artificial intelligence, and (c) how the program offers some solution or clarification of the problem. Any program submitted as a final paper/project must be sent to me so I can run it in my account. Students may complete a set of HTML pages as a project. Experience shows that projects in HTML coding are time consuming, labor intensive, and can often involve obscure technical questions. Any project must be approved by the professor.
The main goal of this course is to enable students to overcome their temporal chauvinism, a term to be defined. The assumption of the course is simple: Our "modern ideas" about intelligence, mental capacities, and so on today in the computer age differ from those of earlier centuries mainly in purely technical ways, not in any fundamental conceptual reorganizations. What we see today are technical refinements of concepts (intelligence, understanding, wisdom, thinking, and so on) but not redefinitions or fundamental revisions of the concepts.
The course is aimed at students who wish to see current studies of artificial intelligence, natural language processing, cybernetics, robotics, intelligence, and animal communication in a broad perspective covering the last four or five thousand years. This course is geared to technical students (who like to program and have some experience with UNIX) and non-technical students (who may not even use a word processor).
The idea of a computer (a device that mimics some aspect of human reason, e.g., logic, algebra, arithmetic, geometry, etc.) originated hundreds (thousands) of years ago. What we today would call robots, but which our ancestors centuries ago labeled simulata, automata, rational machines, and so on, were widely known and much discussed in 1500 and 1600. To some extent (a good term paper project) one might argue that Mary Shelly's Frankenstein (about 1800) drew heavily upon the very well known robots, androids, and automata built in the 1500-1800 period.
The keystone of the course - the work of Noam Chomsky (Cartesian Linguistics and Knowledge of Language) shows that Chomsky casts his ideas about language/grammar/intelligence in terms of Cartesian thought following Rene Descartes and the Port Royal School, 1600-1700. In Cartesian Linguistics, Chomsky steps back to view current research in linguistics, mentalism, intelligence, and so on in a 500 year perspective (1450-1966) that shows current work is in a Cartesian tradition.
We will step back further than Chomsky to give a broader perspective (2000 B.C. - 2000 A.D.) and show that Chomsky, Descartes, Plato, E.A. Poe, C.S. Peirce, and others can be understood as developments in two related fundamental undercurrents of Western thought: wisdom literature and the Apocrypha. Concerning these, the Encyclopedia Britannica says: wisdom literature. Common Near Eastern religious literary form, found in the Bible (see Ketuvim), in the Egyptian religious literature of the Middle Kingdom (c. 2100 - c. 1600 BC), and in Mesopotamian religious literature. (Encyclopedia Britannica, Micropedia, Vol. X, p.714) apocrypha. Those writings that are included in the Septuagint (Greek) and Vulgate (Latin) versions of the Old Testament but are excluded from the Jewish and Protestant versions as unauthentic. Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol. 12, pp. 783c)
The readings can be difficult for several reasons. Many of them are thousands of years old and translated by people with strong biases. For instance, in the wisdom literature and the Apocrypha, the link between God and human beings is a female (often called Wisdom) and not a male (for instance Jesus in the Christian literature). Prayers are a main focus of studies of intelligence since, according to some (Plato, St. Augustine), humans are the most religious creatures on earth, although Pliny argues that elephants are more religious than humans and pray more effectively. Many neo-Platonist and Apocrypha prayers ask God to send down his daughter, see The Wisdom of Solomon, "Therefore I prayed, and prudence was given to me; I called for help, and there came to me a spirit of wisdom. I valued her above scepter and throne, and reckoned riches as nothing beside her..." (WoS 7:7-9) "And with thee is wisdom, who is familiar with thy works and was present at the making of the world by thee, and who knows what is acceptable to thee and in line with thy commandments. Send her forth from the holy heavens, and from thy glorious throne bid her come down, so that she may labour at my side and I may learn what pleases thee." (WoS 9:9-10) As a sample of modern wisdom studies read the pages appended to this outline describing Ms. Harriet Melusina Fay Peirce, a leading feminist of the 19th century and the wife of one of America's leading philosophers and logicians.
At several points Chomsky indicates that the work of Charles Sanders Peirce influenced his studies of language and mind. We will read many excerpts from his work. One of the things that makes Peirce difficult for many students is that in his main systematic works, published after 1900, he did not wonder how or why thought (mind) could arise in a machine or brain. He did not ask how matter (body) floating around in three dimensional space could be organized, arranged, and programmed so that it might - perhaps spontaneously - give rise to thought. In his view, questions like these made no sense since they reversed the priorities: Such thinking makes matter seem primary and thought secondary, or to assume that matter in some sense precedes thought. Never! According to Peirce the basic question is: How complex and organized must thought become before it - perhaps spontaneously - gives rise to the assumption that there is three dimensional space occupied with objects, one of which is a body that the thinking object seems to occupy? How do the properties of thought - which postulate the existence of the three dimensional world and our knowledge of it - proceed to populate that space with objects, the furniture of the universe?
C.S. Peirce had two favorite authors, Charles Baudelaire and Edgar Allan Poe. We will not have any assigned readings to Baudelaire since we do not want to follow Plato and be accused of misdirecting the youth of a nation into a cult of Dandyism. But we will read Poe's articles on one of the most famous robots of the 18th century: The Turkish Chess Playing Machine invented by Wolfgang Ritter von Kempelen, see Figure 1. LECTURES
The materials you will be reading include primary source materials written by the leading experts in the field. These readings are not always easy going. In reading any article try to answer the questions: (1) What does this person want to do? (2) Why do they want to do it? It is useful? Scientifically interesting? Does it tell us about the way the mind works? It is not necessary that you understand HOW the particular computational mechanisms work. Computational theory and hardware advance rapidly. Since the books we will read are at least three years old, most authors are probably doing whatever they proposed in some new way.
Almost all of the readings from St. Augustine, Plato, and others who died a hundred or more years ago can be found on the World Wide Web. They can be obtained as text files, as .pdf, and as postscript formatted files. If you download them as ascii text files, you can search them for specific words and terms, e.g., wisdom, intelligence, spirit, knowledge, understanding, belief... As part of this course, you will have a computer account that will enable you to use the World Wide Web and the Internet Browsers (Macintosh, IBM PC, UNIX) to search for subjects that interest you. Some of the materials can be printed on the NYU laser printers at 14 Washington Place and other sites. At the end of this course, if you pay attention and do the work recommended (but not required), you will be able to use the Internet as a productive tool for accessing primary source materials.
Do not be misled by the small size of some of the readings. A few pages of readings by Peirce or Augustine might take several hours to figure out. Very little of this material lends itself to "speed reading." Hence, do not put off all of the readings until the night before the exam.