Archive for the ‘The Society of Mind’ Category

Is the mind a singularly frozen form?

November 25, 2007

Is the mind a singularly frozen form?

The art of a great painting is not in any one idea, nor in a multitude of separate tricks for placing all those pigment spots, but in the great network of relationships among its parts.

Similarly, the agents, raw, that make our minds are by themselves as valueless as aimless, scattered daubs of paint.  The value of the human mind lies in its vast, connected network of agents.

— My Summary of Section 4.3 The Soul in The Society of Mind by Marvin Minsky

From protoplasmic soup to humans … from today’s machines to _____ in 500 years?

October 11, 2007

It seems to me that the word “machine” is getting to be a bit out of date. For centuries, words like “mechanical” made us think of simple devices like pulleys, levers, locomotives, and typewriters. The word “computerlike” inherited a similar sense of pettiness, of doing dull arithmetic by little steps. But we ought to recognize that we’re still in an early era of machines, with virtually no idea of what they may become. What if some visitor from Mars had come a billion years ago to judge the fate of earthly life from watching clumps of cells that hadn’t even learned to crawl? In the same way, we cannot grasp the range of what machines may do in the future from seeing what’s on view right now.

The Society of Mind by Marvin Minsky

“Holistic” and “gestalt” are pseudo-explanation words that anesthetize your mind

October 5, 2007

We’re often told that certain wholes are “more than the sum of the parts.” We hear this expressed with reverent words like “holistic” and “gestalt,” whose academic tones suggest that they refer to clear and definite ideas. But I suspect the actual function of such terms is to anesthetize a sense of ignorance.

We say “gestalt” when things combine to act in ways we can’t explain, “holistic” when we’re caught off guard by unexpected happenings and realize we understand less than we thought we did.

For example, consider these two questions, the first “subjective” and the second “objective”:

  1. What makes a drawing more than just its separate lines?
  2. What makes a tower more than separate blocks?

Why does the “objective” question seem less mysterious? Because we have good ways to answer it — in terms of how things interact. To explains how towers work, we just point out how every block is held in place by its neighbors and by gravity. This explanation seems almost self-evident to adults. However, it did not seem so simple when we were children, and it took each of us several years to learn how real-world objects interact. We regard such knowledge as “obvious” only because we cannot remember how hard it was to learn.

Why does it seem so much harder to explain the “subjective” question? Many people assume that “subjective” questions are impossible to answer because they involve our minds. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be answered. It only means that we must first know more about our minds.

“Subjective” questions are also based on how things interact. The difference is that here we are not concerned with objects in the world outside, but with processes inside our brains.

In other words, the question about the drawing is actually quite technical. It asks us to explain what happens among the agents in our minds. But this is a subject about which we have never learned very much — and neither have our sciences. Such questions will be answered in time. But it will prolong the wait if we keep using pseudo-explanation words like “holistic” and “gestalt.”

The Society of Mind by Marvin Minsky

Common sense – simple? It’s an illusion of simplicity …

September 22, 2007

Common sense is not a simple thing.  Instead, it is an immense society of hard-earned practical ideas – of multitudes of life-learned rules and exceptions, dispositions and tendencies, balances and checks.

If common sense is so diverse and intricate, what makes it seem so obvious and natural?  This illusion of simplicity comes from losing touch with what happened during infancy, when we formed our first abilities.  As each new group of skills matures, we build more layers on top of them.  As time goes on, the layers below become increasingly remote until, when we try to speak of them later in life, we find ourselves with little more to say than “I don’t know.”

The Society of Mind by Marvin Minsky