Philosophy Word of the Day – Turing Test

Alan Turing

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“A test devised by Alan Turing in the 1950s intended to determine machine intelligence.  This test was invented by Alan M. Turing (1912-1954) and first described in his 1950 article. The basic setup of the test includes two people and the machine to be tested. One person is an interrogator, and the other person and the machine are respondents. The interrogator and respondents are all in different rooms and thus physically separated. The interrogator can only ask questions via a keyboard (e.g. a teletype or computer terminal). Both respondents attempt to convince the interrogator that they are the human respondent. Turing suggested that the test should be run for five minutes or so, but the precise length is somewhat irrelevant. This, then, is an imitation game for the machine.

“The machine is said to pass the test if the interrogator can not tell the difference between the respondents, or guesses at chance at the identity of the respondents. The machine fails the test if the interrogator can tell the difference. Turing thought that any machine which passes the test should be considered intelligent, or more precisely, should be considered to ‘think’.

“In other words, Turing proposed the test as a sufficient criterion for machine intelligence. He felt it was not a necessary condition because of the possibility that intelligent creatures could not correctly participate (for some physical reason) in the game. However, as Block (1995) points out it is possible to satisfy the Turing test with an unintelligent, physically possible machine. This means that the test does not seem to be a sufficient criterion either. If the test is neither necessary nor sufficient, perhaps it can be considered a ‘mark’ of intelligence, rather than criterial for intelligence.”

Turing, A.M. (1950). Computing machinery and intelligence. Mind, 59, 433-560.

Block, N. (1995). Mind as the software of the brain. In D. Osherson, L. Gleitman, S. Kosslyn, E. Smith and S. Sternberg (eds). Invitation to Cognitive Science, MIT Press. [online version]

— Chris Eliasmith at Dictionary of Philosophy of Mind

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Edmund Husserl

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“Although not the first to coin the term, it is uncontroversial to suggest that the German philosopher, Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), is the ‘father’ of the philosophical movement known as phenomenology.  Phenomenology can be roughly described as the sustained attempt to describe experiences (and the ‘things themselves’) without metaphysical and theoretical speculations.

“Husserl suggested that only by suspending or bracketing away the ‘natural attitude’ could philosophy becomes its own distinctive and rigorous science, and he insisted that phenomenology is a science of consciousness rather than of empirical things. Indeed, in Husserl’s hands phenomenology began as a critique of both psychologism and naturalism.  Naturalism is the thesis that everything belongs to the world of nature and can be studied by the methods appropriate to studying that world (that is, the methods of the hard sciences). Husserl argued that the study of consciousness must actually be very different from the study of nature. . . . “ (continue article)

— Marianne Sawicki at Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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Philosophy Word of the Day — Thomas Nagel

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“American moral and political theorist.  Born in the former Yugoslavia, Nagel was educated at Cornell, Oxford, and Harvard.  He taught at Princeton from 1966 to 1980, and subsequently at New York University.  His work is centrally concerned with the nature of moral motivation and the possibility of a rational theory of moral and political commitment, and has been a major stimulus to interest in realistic and Kantian approaches to these issues.

“One of the most discussed papers of modern philosophy of mind has been his ‘What Is It Like to Be a Bat?’, arguing that there is an irreducible, subjective aspect of experience that cannot be grasped by the objective methods of natural science, or by philosophies such as functionalism that confine themselves to those methods.  Works include The Possibility of Altruism (1970), Mortal Questions (1979), The View from Nowhere (1986), and Equality and Partiality (1991).”

Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, 244.

* Some will remember that Nagel came under attack in 2009 for naming Stephen C. Meyer’s book Signature in the Cell one of the best books of the year.  Philosopher and historian David Gordon, among others, came to Nagel’s defense.


The Missing Links – Feb. 19, 2011

  • A list of 50 philosophy blogs that cover a variety of philosophical topics.  Among the interesting titles are “The Philosophy Smoker” and “The Ethical Werewolf.”


  • Speaking of philosophy, UC-Berkeley has made available online three courses taught by well-known philosopher John Searle.  The courses are Philosophy of Language, Philosophy of Mind, and Philosophy of Society.


  • A number of free theology books in PDF format are available at the Online Christian Library of Virtual Theological Resources.  Titles include Charles Hodges’s Systematic theology, Creation in Old Testament Theology by Paul R. House, and The Divine Inspiration of the Bible by Arthur W. Pink.


  • Last Seminary has a tremendous collection of free material in the categories of New Testament studies, science and religion, and philosophy of religion, which are further broken down into articles, books, and courses.  A wealth of quality material here.


  • Several interesting papers from Baylor’s past Philosophy of Religion Conferences are available on the conference website.  Past presenters have included Paul Moser, John Greco, Jonathan Kvanvig, and Alexander Pruss.


  • Randy Alcorn’s book Why Pro-Life is free in PDF format here.  In this 144-page book he deals with questions such as Is the Unborn Really a Human Being?, Is Abortion Part of a Right to Privacy?, Does Abortion Harm a Woman’s Physical and Mental Health?, and several other related issues.



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Philosophy Word of the Day – Belief

“Contemporary analytic philosophers of mind generally use the term “belief” to refer to the attitude we have, roughly, whenever we take something to be the case or regard it as true. To believe something, in this sense, needn’t involve actively reflecting on it: Of the vast number of things ordinary adults believe, only a few can be at the fore of the mind at any single time.

“Nor does the term “belief”, in standard philosophical usage, imply any uncertainty or any extended reflection about the matter in question (as it sometimes does in ordinary English usage). Many of the things we believe, in the relevant sense, are quite mundane: that we have heads, that it’s the 21st century, that a coffee mug is on the desk.

“Forming beliefs is thus one of the most basic and important features of the mind, and the concept of belief plays a crucial role in both philosophy of mind and epistemology. The “mind-body problem”, for example, so central to philosophy of mind, is in part the question of whether and how a purely physical organism can have beliefs. Much of epistemology revolves around questions about when and how our beliefs are justified or qualify as knowledge.” (continue article)

— Eric Schwizgebel in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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Consciousness Remains an Intractable Problem for Naturalism

I mentioned a few specific reasons for this in a recent post.  However, I think many people believe these objections to a naturalistic account of mind are the creation of Christian critics.  So, here are a few corroborating statements from those on the other side.

[P]hilosopher of mind . . . Ned Block . . . confesses that we have
no idea how consciousness could have emerged from nonconscious matter: “we have nothing—zilch—worthy of being called a research programme…. Researchers are stumped.”6

Berkeley’s John Searle says this is a “leading problem in the biological sciences.”7

Jaegwon Kim notes our “inability” to understand consciousness in an “essentially physical” world.8

Colin McGinn observes that consciousness seems like “a radical novelty in the universe”; 9  he wonders how our “technicolour” awareness could “arise from soggy grey matter.”10

David Papineau wonders why consciousness emerges: “to this question physicalists’ ‘theories of consciousness’ seem to provide no answer.”11

If, however, we have been made by a supremely self-aware Being, then the existence of consciousness has a plausible context.

6. Ned Block, “Consciousness,” in A Companion to the Philosophy of Mind, ed. Samuel Guttenplan (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 1994), 211.
7. John Searle, “The Mystery of Consciousness: Part II,” New York Review of Books (Nov.16, 1995): 61.
8. Jaegwon Kim, “Mind, Problems of the Philosophy of,” s.v. The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, ed. Ted Honderich (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 578.
9. Colin McGinn, The Mysterious Flame (New York: Basic Books, 1999), 14.
10. Colin McGinn, The Problem of Consciousness (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990), 10–11.
11. David Papineau, Philosopical Naturalism (Oxford: Blackwell, 1993), 119.

From Paul Copan, Loving Wisdom: Christian Philosophy of Religion, p. 105

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Introspection

Le Penseur, Musée Rodin, Paris

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Introspection, as the term is used in contemporary philosophy of mind, is a means of learning about one’s own currently ongoing, or perhaps very recently past, mental states or processes. You can, of course, learn about your own mind in the same way you learn about others’ minds—by reading psychology texts, by observing facial expressions (in a mirror), by examining readouts of brain activity, by noting patterns of past behavior—but it’s generally thought that you can also learn about your mind introspectively, in a way that no one else can. But what exactly is introspection? No simple characterization is widely accepted. Although introspection must be a process that yields knowledge only of one’s own current mental states, more than one type of process fits this characterization.

Introspection is a key concept in epistemology, since introspective knowledge is often thought to be particularly secure, maybe even immune to skeptical doubt. Introspective knowledge is also often held to be more immediate or direct than sensory knowledge. Both of these putative features of introspection have been cited in support of the idea that introspective knowledge can serve as a ground or foundation for other sorts of knowledge.

Introspection is also central to philosophy of mind, both as a process worth study in its own right and as a court of appeal for other claims about the mind. Philosophers of mind offer a variety of theories of the nature of introspection; and philosophical claims about consciousness, emotion, free will, personal identity, thought, belief, imagery, perception, and other mental phenomena are often thought to have introspective consequences or to be susceptible to introspective verification. For similar reasons, empirical psychologists too have discussed the accuracy of introspective judgments and the role of introspection in the science of the mind. (Continue article)

(Via Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

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