FYS 198: Mind and Machine

   Fall, 1997.

   Instructor:  David J. Eck.

   Tuesdays and Thursdays
   9:00--10:45 AM
   Room Napier 102

About the Course

The title of this course is Mind and Machine: Natural and Artificial Intelligence. In it, we will encounter some fundamental questions about the nature of mind and intelligence. We will approach the question of intelligence from two directions: through questions about the physical workings of the human brain (natural intelligence); and through the work that has been done since the 1950s trying to make computers "think," or at least to act as if they can think (artificial intelligence).

It is just about fifty years since the first computers were invented, and it is just about that long since the first speculations about the possibility that computers can display artificial intelligence. In spite of early predictions that computers would soon display human-level intelligence, computer scientists are still far short of that goal. During the same time period, a lot has been learned about human intelligence and the physical functioning of the brain. But in this field too, deep questions remain about the nature of consciousness and the source of emotion and even about the way that people perform such seemingly effortless tasks as recognizing the face of a friend.

In this course, we'll look at the history of the search for computer intelligence, and the difficulties that have been encountered. We'll discuss philosophical arguments for and against the possibility of such intelligence. And we will examine biological intelligence and the relationship between mind and machine. Although the course will deal with computers and the way they work, this is not a technical computer science course. We will not use computers, except possibly in a few demonstrations, and you will learn only enough about how they work to understand the rest of the course. In fact, the main thrust of the course is more philosophical than anything else, with side trips into neuroscience, psychology, and cognitive science, as well as computer science.

The big questions are: Can a machine think? What is the nature of human thought? What is the relationship between Mind and Machine? We will not answer these questions.


Here are short descriptions of the texts that you will buy for the course. Only parts of these texts will be assigned reading for the class.

AI: The Tumultuous History of the Search for Artificial Intelligence, by Daniel Crevier. This 1993 book covers the history of artificial intelligence. It talks about many of the important ideas and techniques without getting overly technical. We will read almost all of this book.

What Computers Still Can't Do, by Hubert L. Dreyfus. This is the most recent edition of what is probably the most famous book criticizing the whole artificial intelligence enterprise. Dreyfus is a philosopher and some parts of the book are very difficult. We will read selections, and skip over the really hard-core philosophy.

The Mind's I: Fantasies and Reflections on Self and Soul, edited by Douglas Hofstadter and Daniel C. Dennett. A collection of essays and short stories that relate to the question, "What is the mind?" Some selections from this book will be assigned readings for the whole class. Other selections will be read by individuals as part of their projects for the course.

The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, by Oliver Sacks. A collection of case studies by Sacks, a neurologist who treats patients with a variety of mental disorders and brain dysfunctions. We will read several selections from this book because one way to investigate how the mind works is to look at the ways it can break down.

Assignments, Journal, and Projects

There will be a reading assignment for almost every class. You should come to class prepared to discuss the reading. This includes asking questions on parts you didn't understand, as well as bringing up points with which you disagreed or which you found particularly interesting.

As a significant part of your work for the course, you will keep a journal in which you will write about the class, the readings, your reactions to them, and anything else you want to include. I will collect journals in class every Tuesday and return them in class on Thursday. I expect you to write at least a few pages every week. Your journal should include at least the following:

You can also include whatever else you want. I will not necessarily read everything that you write in your journal. If there is something in your journal that you would particularly like me to respond to in writing, make sure you mark it conspicuously.

There will be four major writing assignments in the course. These four papers will provide the major part of your grade for the course. Except for the last paper, which will be due at the end of the course, you will have the option of rewriting any paper (once) to try to improve your grade. I expect your papers to be reasonably free of spelling, grammar, and word-use errors (not more than about one per page). A paper that does not meet this requirement is unlikely to receive a grade higher than C-.

Two of the four writing assignments will be "group projects." Each project will involve a class presentation in addition to the paper. For these projects, the class will work in groups of two to four students. You will get more information about projects soon.

Tests, Quizzes, and Grading

There will be short quizzes about once per week. The quizzes will be mostly factual in nature and will consist of short-answer questions and short, one-paragraph essay questions. I will drop the lowest quiz grade.

Aside from these quizzes, there will be no tests or exam. Your final paper, which will take the place of an exam, will be due during the regularly scheduled final exam period for this course, on Monday, November 24, between 8:30 AM and 11:30 AM.

Your grade for the course will be computed as follows (except that the grade computed in this way might be lowered because of attendance problems):

              First Paper:          14%
              Second Paper:         14%
              Third Paper:          14%
              Fourth Paper:         18%
              Quizzes:              15%
              Journal:              10%
              Class Participation:  15%


Attendance is required. This includes getting to class on time. If you have a good reason for missing a class and if you know in advance that you will have to miss a class, please let me know about it in advance. If something comes up that you don't know about in advance, such as illness, let me know as soon as possible. Any absence for which you don't have a reasonable excuse will lower your grade for the course. When you miss a class for any reason, I will generally ask you to do some kind of work as a substitute. For example, I might ask you to turn in a written report on the reading for the day that you miss, or I might give you a magazine article to read and ask you to report on it to the class.

Office Hours and Email

My office is room 301 in Lansing Hall. My office phone extension is 3398. I am on campus most days, and you are welcome to come in anytime you can find me there. I will announce office hours as soon as my schedule is determined, but note that your office visits are not restricted to my regular office hours.

My email address is ECK (or eck@hws.edu for email sent through the Internet). Email is good way to communicate with me, since I usually answer messages within a day of receiving them. You already have an account on the Colleges' VAX computer that you can use to send and receive email. If you don't know your password for that account, you should contact Barry Jones in Williams Hall.

Before the First Day of Class

Before the first day of class on Thursday, November 11, you should buy the book The Mind's I, and you should read the article "Computing Machinery and Intelligence," by Alan Turing, on pages 53 to 67. It would be a good idea to start your journal with an entry on this paper.

Welcome to the Colleges and to the course!