A long and important book on the philosophy of mind, covering artificial intelligence, human psychology, and questions of consciousness, Daniel Dennett’s Brainstorms is a must-read for anyone who’s interested in what we call “minds”.
Here are a couple of my favourite quotes from the book, but I recommend reading it in full.
“It used to be popular to say “A computer can’t really think, of course; all it can do is add, subtract, multiply and divide.”
That leaves the way open to saying, “A computer can’t really multiply, of course; all it can do is add numbers together very, very fast,” and that must lead to the admission, “A computer cannot really add numbers, of course; all it can do is control the opening and closing of hundreds of tiny switches,” which leads to: “A computer can’t really control its switches, of course: it’s simply at the mercy of the electrical currents running through it.”
What this chain of claims adds up to “prove”, obviously, is that computers are really pretty dull lumps of stuff – they can’t do anything interesting at all. They can’t really guide rockets to the moon, or make out paychecks, or beat human beings at chess, but of course they can do all that and more.”
“If you can make yourself study your pains (even quite intense pains) you will find, as it were, no room left to mind them: (they stop hurting) – though studying a pain (e.g. a headache) gets boring pretty fast, and as soon as you stop studying them, they come back and hurt, which, oddly enough, is sometimes less boring than being bored by them and so, to some degree, preferable.”
You can find Brainstorms: Philosophical Essays on Mind and Psychology by Daniel Dennett on Amazon.
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