Robot head with eyes that look like cameras and some kind of a forehead thing taht might be a camera too




Philosophy of Mind, PHIL-UA 80, Fall 2020

Lectures on Zoom, sections hybrid

Lecture: TR 4:55 PM-6:10 PM

See Classes for the Zoom address for each class

Professor: Ned Block 
5 Washington Place, 405
Office Hours: Wednesday 4:30-5:30 PM, 
and by appointment

Zoom link for office hours

If this does not work, there is a link on the Classes zoom tab


All sections are blended

Cristina Ballarini,

Office hours: Mondays, 10 AM-11 AM

and by appointment


W 4:55-6:10 (SILV_208; T 9:30-10:45 (5WP_601,)

Zoom link for office hours

Rebecca Keller,

Office hours Mondays, 3-4, or by appointment


W 2-3:15 (5WP_601); W 3:30-4:45 (5WP_601)

Zoom link for office hours



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, December 10th, the last class. Actually, there will be two final examinations so as to accommodate students in different time zones. Both finals will have 10 questions, of which the student should answer any 7. One examination will be sent to all students via Classes at 4:55 PM EDT on December 10th. Those who are doing this exam must submit it via Classes by 6:10 PM EDT unless an arrangement has been made with the Moses Center for a longer period. Submitting it late will result in a decrease in the grade in proportion to the degree of lateness. Make sure that you have internet access that will allow returning the completed exam in time. Those who have trouble submitting via Classes can send their exam to their Preceptor (Rebecca Keller or Cristina Ballarini) by email. Another exam will be emailed at 9:00 AM EDT the next morning, Friday December 11th to be submitted by 10:15 AM EDT. Those who did not do the 4:55 PM exam on Thursday must do the 9:00 AM exam on Friday. All answers must be in your own words and not copied from another source.



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

Assignments are posted on the class web site. Slides are posted on Classes after each lecture. Please submit your assignments electronically on Classes by 8 PM EDT on the due date. If you have problems with Classes, send your paper by email to Cristina Ballarini or Rebecca Keller. Put your student number on your paper but not your name so that assignments can be graded anonymously.

More information on assignments and grading can be found below in the section Requirements, Rules and Grading

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


All assignments are due by 8:00 PM New York time on the date due. DUE DATES MAY BE MOVED LATER DEPENDING ON OUR PROGRESS


Assignment 1: The Turing Test (Due Thursday, September 10th) This assignment is now due Tuesday, September 15th because of a problem with posting the video of Tuesday's class.

Assignment 2: The Blockhead (Due Thursday, September 17th)

Assignment 3: Searle's Chinese Room (Due Thursday, September 24th)

Assignment 4: Functional Role Semantics (Due Thursday, October 1st)

Assignment 5: Searle's Wall Argument (Due Thursday, October 8th)

Assignment 6: GPT-3 (Due Tuesday, October 20th)

Assignment 7: Iconic Representation (Due Tuesday, October 27th)

Assignment 8: Inverted Qualia (Due Thursday, November 5th)

Assignment 9: Overflow (Due Thursday, November 12th)

Assignment 10: Higher order thought (Due Thursday, November 19th)

Assignment 11: Dreaming (Due Tuesday, December 1st)

Assignment 12: The Zombie Within (Due Tuesday, December 8th)

(Assignment 13: There will be only 12 assignments.)





Some of the readings require a login/password to be sent out on Classes and mentioned in class.

Note that the list of readings may be changed as the term progresses

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.

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

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)

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

Dinosaur Comics September 29, 2006

Gary Marcus, "What Comes After the Turing Test," or here, New Yorker June 9,2014

Loebner Prize

Try Mitsuku and the original Eliza program

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) Communications of the ACM. 37.6 (June 1994) p79

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

2009 Loebner Prize Transcripts



Searle's Chinese Room Argument  

John Searle, "Minds, Brains and Programs" Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3, 1980, p.417-424

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Functional Role Semantics  

Ned Block, "Semantics, Conceptual Role", Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy   PDF here

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

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)

For the Tom Swift allusion, click here.

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


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

Extra Reading:

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

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



Will Douglas Heaven, OpenAI's new language generator GPT-3 is shockingly good—and completely mindless, Technology Review July 20, 2020 

Kevin Lacker, Giving GPT-3 a Turing Test, blog post

Gary Marcus and Ernest Davis, "GPT-3, Bloviator: OpenAI's language generator has no idea what it's talking about" Technology Review, August 22, 2020

Philosophers On GPT-3 (updated with replies by GPT-3)


Julian Michael, To Dissect an Octopus: Making Sense of the Form/Meaning Debate

Iconic mental representation and analog computation

Ned Block, "Mental Pictures and Cognitive Science" Philosophical Review

Zenon Pylyshyn, Return of the mental image: Are there pictures in the head? 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, 7, 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.


The Inverted Spectrum

Alex Byrne, "Inverted Qualia", in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.  

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

Martine Nida-Rumelin, Pseudonormal Vision, Philosophical Studies 82, p.145-157

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


Experiments on Phenomenal Consciousness and Access Consciousness

Victor Lamme's Youtube talk

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

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

Extra Reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Higher Order Theories of Consciousness

Hakwan Lau and Richard Brown, The Emperor's New Phenomenology? The Empirical Case for Conscious Experiences without First-Order Representation, in Blockheads! Essays on Ned Block's Philosophy of Mind and Consciousness, edited by Adam Pautz and Daniel Stoljar, 2019.

Ned Block, Empirical science meets higher order views of consciousness: Reply to Hakwan Lau and Richard Brown, in Blockheads! Essays on Ned Block's Philosophy of Mind and Consciousness, edited by Adam Pautz and Daniel Stoljar, 2019.


Extra Reading:

Richard Brown, Block's Response to Lau and Brown on Inattentional Inflation. For the response by Block and rejoinder by Brown, scroll down.

Hakwan Lau & David Rosenthal, Empirical support for higher-order theories of conscious awareness, Trends in Cognitive Sciences 15, 8, 2011, 365-373

Joseph LeDoux and Richard Brown A higher-order theory of emotional consciousness. PNAS Early Edition Feb 15, 2017


Daniel Dennett, Are Dreams Experiences? Philosophical Review 85 (2):151 (1976)

Jennifer Windt, 'Reporting dream experience: Why (not) to be skeptical about dream reports, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 7, 2013

Susanna Martinez-Conde, What Lucid Dreams Look Like, Scientific American, September 7, 2018

The Zombie Within

Christof Koch & Frances Crick, The zombie within. Nature (2001) 411, 893

Andy Clark, "Visual Experience and Motor Action: Are the Bonds Too Tight?" Phil Review Oct 2001.

Megan Peters, Robert Kentridge, Ian Phillips Ned Block, "Does Unconscious Perception Really Exist?" Neuroscience of Consciousness  (3), 1, 2017

Theories of Consciousness

Ned Block (2009), "Comparing Theories of Consciousness" Michael Gazzaniga (ed.) The Cognitive Neurosciences IV, MIT Press.

David Chalmers (2003), "Consciousness and its Place in Nature". Read the first 5 sections plus section 7. In Stephen P. Stich & Ted A. Warfield (eds.), Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Mind, Blackwell. pp. 102--142 (2003).


Algorithms and Bias

Julia Angwin, Jeff Larson, Surya Mattu and Lauren Kirchner, ProPublica, "Machine Bias", or here,

Sam Corbett-Davies, Emma Pierson, Avi Feller, Sharad Goel, "A computer program used for bail and sentencing was labeled biased against Blacks. It's actually not that clear."Washington Post, October 17, 2016

Ed Yong, "A Popular Algorithm is No Better at Predicting Crimes Than Random People,"The Atlantic, January 17, 2018

Gabbrielle Johnson,  Algorithmic Bias: On the Implicit Biases of Social Technology, Synthese, 2020




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 7. Put your N-number on the assignment, not your name. The assignments should be turned in via Classes. If you have a problem doing that, send the paper by email to Cristina Ballarini,, or Rebecca Keller,


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 rather than quoting what the author has said or paraphrasing what the author has said.


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 8:00 PM New York time on the day indicated. If you can't get it in by 8 PM, just do the next assignment.


Can you do more than three papers with the best three grades counted? No, our policy is not to allow that.


Grades will be calculated according to this table, with points on assignments and on the final awarded for components of acceptable answers

A+ A A- 4.0 4.0 3.7 97-100% 94-96% 90-93% 

B+ B B- 3.3 3.0 2.7 86-89% 83-85% 80-82% 

C+ C C- 2.3 2.0 1.7 76-79% 73-75% 70-72% 

D+ D D- 1.3 1.0 0.7 66-69% 63-65% 60-62% 




Learning Outcomes


Students who successfully complete this class will be able to combine philosophical and scientific considerations to reason about issues on the cutting edge of scientific thinking where what is at issue is not only what the answers are but what the questions are



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  

Disability Disclosure Statement

Academic accommodations are available to any student with a disability. Students should register with the Moses Center for Students with Disabilities at 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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