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Philosophy of Mind: A Mind in the World


By Frank Simons

The Meditation Center presents the 24-part Great Courses series Philosophy of Mind: Part 12, “A Mind in the World,” at 5:30pm, Thursday, August 24, at the Center, Callejon Blanco 4.

This lecture explores the “mind in the world” approach as it has been developed in psychology, philosophy, and robotics. This central idea accords with both functionalist and evolutionary theories. The functionalist claims mental states are functional states of an organism and organisms function in environments. The link from mind to world is direct. Darwin’s study of finches in the Galapagos led him to the conclusion it is environments that do the selecting in natural selection.

J.J. Gibson developed a theory while training WWII pilots that the mind can be understood only in terms of the world of which it is a part. What we perceive are not sense-data but “affordances,” possibilities for action. Perception is direct, not inferential. It is tied directly to meaningful action in the world. The theory fails to explain perceptual error.

Where does the mind stop and the rest of the world begin? Andy Clark and David Chalmers argue that a range of our mental activities can extend beyond our skin. They offer the thought experiment of Inga and Otto. Inga believes a museum is on 53rd Street. Otto suffers Alzheimer’s but carries a notebook. He checks it and finds the museum is indeed on 53rd Street. Inga’s beliefs and memories are in her head while Otto’s are in his notebook. Clark and Chalmers say language and linguistic interaction with other people is a form of “extended mind.”

Innovative work in robotics has shown a parallel emphasis on the mind in the world. Rodney Brooks, head of the robotics lab at MIT and founder of the iRobot Company, says he tries to find an assumption everyone is making and negate it. A goal of robotics, making robots that walk, talk, and think like people is one of those assumptions. Brooks points out evolution did not start with humans, and robotics shouldn’t either. Brooks builds systems bit by bit, moving slowly toward higher intelligence, just as evolution did. Throughout Brooks’ work runs the idea of embodied intelligence: a mind in the world rather than separate from it.

Professor Patrick Grim, as Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, has provided his students with invaluable insights into issues of philosophy, artificial intelligence, theoretical biology, and other fields. Professor Grim was awarded the university’s Presidential and Chancellor’s awards for teaching excellence and was elected to the Academy of Teachers and Scholars.

There will be an opportunity for discussion following the video.

Presentations of the Center are offered without charge. Donations are gratefully accepted.


Video Presentation

Philosophy of Mind: Part 12, “A Mind in the World”

By Frank Simons

Thu, Aug 24, 5:30pm

Meditation Center

Callejón Blanco 4

Free, donations accepted


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