Thursday, November 16, 2006

How does one make this inference?

In the last week or two I've encountered something in several places that strikes me as strange. It is the claim that liking or using formalisms commits one to certain views about the mind. To broaden this a little, we could say commits one to views about anything. The idea seems to be that liking/using FOL or other formal tools commits one to viewing the mind as a Turing machine. I'm not sure how this goes, since it strikes me as both wrong and unsupported. My guess is that the ideas goes:
Turing machines are formal tools;
people that like formal tools tend to like Turing machines;
so, this will commit them to certain views on the mind.
This is clearly not a good line of thought. At best, liking Turing machines might bias you towards one line of thought, although there are at least a few logicians who are quite adept at using Turing machine arguments that think the mind is not one. It would be interesting to see if one finds a greater percentage of those that use formal tools often view the mind as a Turing machine than those that don't use formal tools as much. My guess is no. I'd bet that among computer scientists, one finds a great tendency towards viewing the mind in that way, but I'm not sure if that is relevant.


gualtiero said...

This is an interesting observation. I'd be interested in knowing more details about where you found this line of argument and what your sources said.

Brendan O'Connor said...

Mathematical logic certainly has bucketloads of connections with Turing machines. The rules of logic go hand-in-hand with automated theorem proving and automated deduction sort of systems, which some very smart people actually have claimed as models of human thinking.

Certainly, the use of any formalisms at all precludes the view that the mind is extremely complex, highly subtle, and resistant to simplistic reduction. (That's what formalisms do.)

Connectionist and parallel distributed processing views of the mind are interesting, since they are mathematical/formal, but seem quite different than a Turing machine / serial computer view. But the formal aspect of connectionist models seems different than the way philosophical logics or theoretical economic models are formal in that they're resistant to introspection; it's quite difficult to analyze an artificial neural net and know what it's doing. Not sure how this would relate to a mind as Turing machine debate.

Renee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.