Essay, Pages 3 (662 words)
Seeing “James the Red Engine”1 cry, prompted me to ask whether a machine could ever actually experience emotion, which raises the centuries-old philosophical question: Can machines have minds? The immediate, instinctive reply to this question by nearly all people is a resounding ‘No’, and people develop a variety of reasons to maintain the distinctiveness of the human (and some ‘higher’ animal) ability to think. Is it just vanity that provokes us to argue against the idea of machines having minds? Or is it conceivable that machines have the power to think in the same way that we do?
In order to answer this question it is necessary to determine what the human mind really is and for this we need to examine both dualist and monist theories.
The problem here is how to ask if machineshave minds when we are unsure of whether we have them ourselves. I therefore propose to answer the question, Can machines think like us? Let us first examine the natural instinctive argument that most will support.
It seems illogical to believe that machines have minds, as indeed we have trouble projecting minds onto everything other than our own species and animals.
Some even believe that animals are completely mindless. Furthermore if we create a machine then it would seem that it is our minds that have created programs for the machine, not the machine that thinks them up itself. People would like to think that we are entirely different to machines though in fact the human body is just an extremely complicated biological machine.
Nonetheless most people will distinguish between a biological ‘machine’ and a fabricated machine whose existence is dependent on the actions of a human creator.
A dualist could argue that it is true to say the body of a human is a complicated machine, but the mind of a machine is a wholly different entity. A machine is a purely physical system, this cannot be denied, and in this way is the same as our physical body. But our conscious experience is not a physical event, so the mind could not be described as physical. It follows that a machine, as a purely physical thing would not be capable of conscious experiences or thought. As the mind is not physical we cannot just construct a mind and attach it to the machine’s mechanism as another part.
Descartes attempted to prove the dualist theory that mind and body are separate, he believed he could “feign” that his body did not exist, but he was unable to do the same when thinking about his mind. He therefore concluded that mind and body are not the same thing. I feel that this is not a valid argument as in reality I believe it is possible to believe our minds do not exist. For instance, who is to say that my mind is not a part of a system of millions of minds? What makes me sure of my independence and singularity?
One could also take the determinist line and protest that each and every decision we make has already been pre-programmed into us through the activity of our genes. Alternatively, our ‘decisions’ arise through the cause and effect activity of chemicals and electricity in our brains, making our mental life really a phenomenon of physical brain states which are as determined as the motion of snooker balls on a snooker table – or trains on a train track! In this way we are mindless, non-thinking machines.
For the purpose of the argument I feel we must ignore this point. Some thinkers believe machines and people are different due to the fact that machines have been programmed and are pre-determined in an obviously different way to humans. People on the other hand can think for themselves, come up with new ideas and act spontaneously, Lady Lovelace believed, “The Analytical Engine has no pretensions to originate anything. It can do whatever we know how to order it to perform”2.