Philosophy of Mind 101: Are You a Computing Machine?


This 101 series enucleates the topics of the inquiries on philosophy of mind and cognitive science from a critical perspective. It covers the topics of behaviourism, mind-body identity, functionalism and computationalism theories thoroughly; and brings more recent concepts, methodologies, and the theories to light. Throughout the series, these theories will be critically analysed. This elaboration as well as the critical analysis is planned to help the reader to have an understanding and comprehension of the mental world, concepts and processes, and different approaches to this realm. The main concerns of this series ask questions such as 'what is the mind?' , 'how does it work?', 'why does it work?', 'what is its purpose if there is one?'. Questions regarding how one understands the world around them amazed thinkers throughout history. This series will take the reader to a journey of different theories and perspectives regarding the mind and mental beings.

  1. Philosophy of Mind 101: The Inquiry on Mind and Body

  2. Philosophy of Mind 101: What is the Function of the Mind?

  3. Philosophy of Mind 101: Are You A Computing Machine?

  4. Philosophy of Mind 101: "We"; Do We Exist?

  5. Philosophy of Mind 101: Co-operation and Cultural Cognition

  6. Philosophy of Mind 101: Inquiries & Conceptual Theories of Mind

This episode of the series, Philosophy of Mind 101, focuses on the computational theory of mind. Previously on the series, mind-body dualism, behaviourism and functionalism are described, taken into account with a critical approach, and concepts and definitions regarding these approaches are defined and elaborated on. In this essay, the computational theory of mind (CTM) is going to be presented, elaborated, and similarities of the theory with the previous theories that are presented in the series and the criticisms regarding the theory are going to be put forth. CTM is the theory that describes the mind as working through processing and categorizing incoming information. For this approach, mind works as a computational machine. The term computation refers to this process of information, which is inspired on rational properties of mind and newly developed computer technologies of the time of the theory in a way that it brings these phenomena together and, rather than forming an analogy of mind, leaping to a deduction regarding mind makes an understanding of the mind as an entity that functions by computing information. In this sense, a computing machine is an information processing machine that combines the processed information in a way that its function determines (Marr, 2010). The match between the mechanical computation process and the human computation process is made via the development of the Turing machine, which is a theoretical and also a practical machine that can compute any machinery computation (Agar, 2017). In this context, the process of machinery computation and human process of computation are differentiated with the concept of intelligence (Turing, 2021b). However, the similarity between logical human behaviour, that can be traced via brain activities, and the machinery computation process is the ground for CTM.

Firstly, the definition of computation for computationalism is required to comprehend the human thinking as a process of computation. A computing structure is a structure that takes input, applies certain operations on the input, and returns the output as the result of the operations as the certain input has gone through the function of the computing structure to create the output (Turing, 2021b). In this sense, logical operations on the input information and creation of output results is called computation. The operations are logical if the operations are conducted loyally to the rationality of the operations. The loyalty to rationality of the operations is represented as the symbols of the certain operations in the computation process. The determination of the computational processes for the computing structure depends on this symbolic significance of rationality. Hence, human computers conducted the computational processes through learning applying certain functions before the computation processes were commonly conducted by the computing machines. Application of machinery into a repetitive operation makes the operation faster and more precise than application of human labour into the operation (Marx, 1992). Hence, the difference between the human computers and the computing machines is that the operations are conducted faster and more precisely since the conducted operations are mechanical processes. Thus, the computing machines replaced the human computers that conducted the computation work.

JPL. (1955). "Computing Group". [Photography].
Figure 1: JPL. (1955). "Computing Group". [Photography].

The computing structures that are developed to conduct computations in processes using the truth values of the given arguments and determining outputs in a series of processes, are the computing machines, which can be mechanical or abstract. In this sense, Turing machines are the machines that theoretically can compute the computations that any computational machine is able to compute (Turing, 2004). Turing machines are abstract and practical machines that return data inputs as the results of the predetermined functions (Agar, 2017). Thus, the distinction between human cognitive processes and the work of the computational machine is put forth as intelligence and the computation work is described as disciplined and unintelligent computation according to the theory (Turing, 2021b). Hence, the question of how to determine whether something works by computation arises. Considering this definition of computation, whether something works by computation can be determined by questioning if the entity in question works by creating certain outputs regarding the inputs and if the processing of information is conducted by the employment of truth values of the inputs. Thus, considering the thinking as a rational and logical process depending on the truth values, the mental processes become the processes that produce outcomes depending on the truth values of the inputs. In this way, according to the theory, the inputs of information are categorized by the computational process of thinking regarding the truth values of beliefs, perceptual states and desires as a computational machine determines the output of a certain input regarding the truth values as ones and zeros (Marr, 2010).

Anonymous. (Retrieved 2022). "Representational Turing Machine". [Drawing].
Figure 2: Anonymous. (Retrieved 2022). "Representational Turing Machine". [Drawing].

Considering the development of computational theory of mind (CTM), the theory stands at a position that relates to the previous theories of mind and cognition. In relation to dualism, for CTM, minds are computational substances that take input as information conducted by bodies, and the bodies are the means of sensation or perception (Jackendoff, 1987). In this way, the theory presents a duality between minds and the bodies as the mechanical conductors of the information from the outer world. Considering such a relation with dualism, CTM regards behaviour as the outputs of the process of the computational functions of the mind. Hence, its relation to behaviourism emerges as an intermutational relation of mind and behaviour (Putnam, 1963). On the other hand, CTM regards the function of mind as computation. As previously described in the previous episode of the series, the mind is regarded as the function itself. In this sense, CTM defines how the function works and what the function is referring to the computational processes (Turing, 2004). Considering the theory, what constitutes the distinction of the computational human mind and the mechanical computational machine is that the mental processes involve self-recognition and may involve self-determination (Turing, 2004). This distinction is tested by the Turing test and similar sentience tests. The Turing test is designed to measure whether a computing machine can make a human believe that it is sentient, or human-like. In this measurement, according to the theory, human-likeness or sentience represents a demonstration of intelligence in behaviour (Agar, 2017). Since the mechanical computational processes are referred to as unintelligent and disciplined processes of computation, intelligence depends on self-recognition and self-determination because if the computational function recognizes and determines itself to create contextual output, the computational function seems to be demonstrating signs of intelligence. Therefore, self-recognition is necessary for a being to be an intelligent, self-aware, and sentient entity

Criticism towards CTM is directed regarding intelligence as the distinction between mental computation and the mechanical computation and these similarities of the theory with its predecessors. The former deduces a leap of substantial equity between intelligence and the computational similarity of the computational machines and mental properties. This deduction necessitates that the property of intelligence of the human mind has the same properties as the rational part of the mind and computational processes are constituted of similar functions (Wittgenstein, 1988). However, the similarity of the functions of that part does not necessarily entail that intelligence is such a property that is constituted of functions of computation, because the theory defines the computational properties of the mind by keeping the intelligence properties of the mind apart. Thus, the deduction is a slippery slope of determination of the intelligence properties. On the other hand, the other approaches reflect on the theory by emphasizing that intelligence can be only a human activity (Van Gelder, 1995), and human cognition is not similar to the computational cognition because the perception and sensation activities are not atomistic but spectral so that they are different from the computational machines (Marr, 2010).

Anonymous. (Retrieved 2022). "Electronic Brain". [Digital Art].
Figure 3: Anonymous. (Retrieved 2022). "Electronic Brain". [Digital Art].

To conclude, CTM regards minds as an organizational entity that functions by categorizing the information as according to CTM minds are computing machines. The difference between a mechanical or digital machine that computes, and the human mind constitutes of human intelligence, capability of evolving, and the unique processes of cognition and perception of the human mind. However, according to CTM they both are in the category of computing machines because the mind is the thing that rationally recognizes and categorizes the incoming information regarding its predetermined function (Jackendoff, 1987). The uniqueness of the functions of the human mind is the ability to change and redetermine, the basis of which is the ability of self-recognition. In this way, the mind recognizes itself, categorizes itself, and recategorizes itself in accordance with the recognition and redetermination of its own properties, as pointing one's mind’s eye to anything so does the mind to itself (Descartes, 2008). Thereby, CTM is a theory that presents a duality between the sensory processes and the mental processes and reduces mental processes to the computational processes. Thus, the mind that constitutes of the computational processes categorize the senses, feelings, emotions and acts accordingly. Therefore, from the development of the theory, it can be deduced that the function of the self-determination of the mental processes occurs in the process of redetermination of the behaviour, since the distinction of the human mental behaviour and mental behaviour of the machine is tested by the the Turing test, which tests the ability of representation of sentience in linguistic behaviour as being able to demonstrate humanlike abilities of keeping a conversation going. However, the mind and the computing machines, even if they show signs of sentience, does not seem to operate in the same field of recognition and determination, because their means of cognition are different from each other. Although, the more technology and computer science develops, the more the artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms develop and become more able to imitate a human processes. However, AI have not yet developed to become sentient.

Bibliographical References

Agar, J. (2017). Turing and the Universal Machine: The Making of the Modern Computer (Icon Science) (Reprint). Icon Books.

Descartes, R., & Moriarty, M. (2008, July 6). Meditations on First Philosophy: with Selections from the Objections and Replies (Oxford World’s Classics) (1st ed.). Oxford University Press.

Edelman, S. (2008). Computing the Mind: How the Mind Really Works (Illustrated). Oxford University Press.

Gibson, J., J. A Theory of Direct Visual Perception”. in Noe, A., & Thompson, E. T. (2002b). Vision and Mind: Selected Readings in the Philosophy of Perception (1st ed.). Bradford Books.

Jackendoff, R. S. S. (1987). Consciousness and the Computational Mind (Explorations in Cognitive Science Series) (1st ed.). Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press.

Marr, D., & Ullman, S. (2010). Vision: A Computational Investigation into the Human Representation and Processing of Visual Information (The MIT Press). The MIT Press.

Marx, K., Fowkes, B., & Mandel, E. (1992). Capital: Volume 1: A Critique of Political Economy (Penguin Classics)(Reprint). Penguin Classics.

Putnam, Hilary. (1963). "Brains and behavior." Analytical philosophy, second series.

Turing, A. M., & Copeland, J. B. (2004). The Essential Turing: Seminal Writings in Computing, Logic, Philosophy, Artificial Intelligence, and Artificial Life plus The Secrets of Enigma (1st ed.). Clarendon Press.

Turing, A. M. (2021b). Computing Machinery and Intelligence / Können Maschinen denken?: Englisch/Deutsch. [Great Papers Philosophie]. Reclam Philipp Jun.

Van Gelder, T. (1995). What Might Cognition Be, If Not Computation? Journal of Philosophy, 92(7), 345–381.

Wittgenstein, L., Anscombe, G. E. M., & Wright, G. V. H. (1988). Remarks on the Philosophy of Psychology, Volume 1(Revised). University of Chicago Press.

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