The mind is a community of “agents”. Each has limited powers and can communicate only with certain others. The powers of mind emerge from their interactions for none of the Agents, by itself, has significant intelligence. [. . . ] Everyone knows what it feels like to be engaged in a conversation with oneself. In this book, we will develop the idea that these discussions really happen, and that the participants really “exist”. In our picture of the mind we will imagine many “sub-persons”, or “internal agents”, interacting with one another. Solving the simplest problem – seeing a picture – or remembering the experience of seeing it – might involve a dozen or more – perhaps very many more – of these agents playing different roles. Some of them bear useful knowledge, some of them bear strategies for dealing with other agents, some of them carry warnings or encouragements about how the work of others is proceding. And some of them are concerned with discipline, prohibiting or “censoring” others from thinking forbidden thoughts.
Note: This book uses the term "resource" where my earlier book, The Society of Mind, used "agent. "I made this change because too many readers assumed that an "agent" is a personlike thing (like a travel agent) that could operate independently, or cooperate with others in much the same ways that people do.
To understand what we call the Sell we first must see what Selves are for. One function of the SeIf is to keep us from changing too rapidly. Each person must make some long-range plans in orderto balance single-purposeness against attempts to do everything at once. But it is not enough simply to instruct an agency to start to carry out our plans. We also have to find some ways to constrain the changes we might later make-to prevent ourselves from turning those plan - agents off again! If we changed our minds too recklessly, we could never know what we might want next. We'd never get much done because we could never depend on ourselves.
It's no secret that Marvin was a strong atheist, and irrespective of one's beliefs, one can appreciate — dare I say "enjoy" — his bluntness. "If you want real meaning, and you can't find one, it's all very well to make one up," he told me. "But I don't see how that [God] solves any problems. Unless you say how God works, saying that God exists doesn't explain anything."
People ask if machines can have souls – And I ask back whether souls can learn. It does not seem a fair exchange — if souls can live for endless time and yet not use that time to learn — to trade all change for changelessness. And that's exacty what we get with inborn souls that cannot grow: a destiny the same as death, an ending in a permanence incapable of any change and hence, devoid of intellect.
What are those old and fierce beliefs in spirits, souls, and essences? They're all insinuations that we're helpless to improve ourselves.
What are our slowest-changing agencies of all? Later we'll see that these must include the silent, hidden agencies that shape what we call character. These are the systems that are concerned not merely with the things we want, but with what we want ourselves to be — that is, the ideals we set for ourselves.
When victims of these incidents [mystical experiences] become compelled to recapture them, their lives and personalities are sometimes permanently changed [but I thought change was good]. The others seeing the radiance in their eyes...are drawn to follow them. But to offer hospitality to paradox is like leaning towards a precipice. You can find out what it is like by falling in, but you may not be able to fall out again. Once contradiction finds a home, few minds can spurn the sense-destroying force of slogans such as "all is one".
Artificial realms like mathematics and theology are built from the start to be devoid of interesting inconsistency. But we must be careful not to mistake our own inventions for natural phenomena we have discovered.
This is footage from a bus ride when Tim was visiting Japan for a conference. Zack Leary remembers watching the the fall of the Soviet Union on TV during the trip so we guess it's probably 1991. This is also the first time I met Marvin Minsky and his wife Gloria. I remember translating a "debate" between Marvin and Tim where they were arguing about whether humans had a soul. Tim said yes and Marvin said no. "The Society of Mind" had just come out in Japanese. To Marvin's dismay, it turned out that in Japan, the word for "mind" and "soul" were the same and were closer to the definition of "soul." The Japanese publishers had translated the title of his book "Society of the Mind" to "Society of the Soul" and Timothy poked Marvin with glee. Tim and Marvin had a very playful and fun relationship with clashing world views - but their interaction was always fun and enlightening to listen to.
1995 is the centennial of the first good book on structural psychology, namely Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams, which came out in 1895. It’s the first major work which discusses the mind as though there weren’t a single little homunculus or mastermind in the middle of it pulling the strings.
If you look at the later Freud a lot of people think that Freud must have studied emotions and emotional illnesses and disorders because that was the really hard and important problem, but Freud himself said the really hard thing to understand is how people do ordinary everyday non-neurotic reasoning.
The reason I suggested that he was a great AI researcher is that in trying to make this theory of how people’s motivations worked in this period 1895 and a couple years thereafter, he wrote this long essay, some of which is lost, for the Project for Scientific Psychology. The project wasn’t published until around 1950 by Carl Pribram, and it has little diagrams which are sort of neural network like, but more like the hydraulic motivation theory that later Nikolaas Tinbergen and Konrad Lorenz won the Nobel Prize for, this diagram that is the foundation of modern ecological theory.
But the point is that Freud is an important figure because he’s the first one to consider that the mind is a big complicated kludge of different types of machinery which are specialized for different functions.
What is understanding? It seems to me that the problem that has happened in psychology on the whole and even in artificial intelligence, is that they’ve missed the lesson that Freud taught us, and I’m not saying that I’m a great admirer about the next 40 years of his research on psychosexual theories and so forth. I read a lot of that once but it seems to me that by 1905 Freud had produced a whole bunch of AI-like ideas that should have been followed up, but people got more interested in his theories of emotions and neuroses.
What is understanding? What I claim is that there isn’t any such thing. There is no such thing as consciousness...So what is there if there is no such thing as understanding? Here is a little paradox, it’s the reason that everybody in the philosophy business has gotten trapped into hopeless nonsense
The same thing with Penrose who says, “I don’t see any method by which a computer could be conscious, and so it must be...” – it’s like the real reason why people think that Edward de Vere wrote Shakespeare is that they look at these plays and they say that nobody could write well enough to write these plays, so it must have been someone else!
Computer science was the first way of talking that let you think about how complicated processes could go on. So, that’s what’s missing in these traditional philosophers like Penrose and Searle, they’re still using the ordinary, naive ideas like understanding and consciousness.
If one has an inappropriate vision in the imagination, one generates an inappropriate “phase-portrait for the geometry of behavior” of the self. Our culture, lacking a vision of a multidimensional model of consciousness, simply oscillates back and forth between an excessively reified materialism and a compensatorily hysterical nihilism. This Nietzschean nihilism, in all its deconstructionist variants, has pretty much taken over the way literature is studied in the universities, and it also rules the cognitive science of Marvin Minsky, Dan Dennett, and Patricia and Paul Churchland, in which the self is looked upon as a superstition that arose from a naive folk psychology that existed before the age of enlightenment brought about by computers and artificial intelligence. This materialist/nihilist mind-set controls the universities.
“For maybe 30 or 40 years, support for semantics and how language actually works virtually vanished from the planet earth. Most linguistics departments changed their linguistics departments to grammar departments and theories of formal syntax. It is a phenomenon I hope to never see again, where an important field is replaced by a relatively unimportant one.”
In general I think if you put emphasis on believing a set of rules that comes from someone you view as an authority figure then there are terrible dangers...most of the cultures exist because they've taught their people to reject new ideas. It's not human nature, it's culture nature. I regard cultures as huge parasites.
There really isn't anything called rational, everything depends on what goals you have and how you got them...
I too am convinced that the days of programming as we know it are numbered, and that eventually we will construct large computer systems not by anything resembling today's meticulous but conceptually impoverished procedural specifications. Instead, we'll express our intentions about what should be done in terms of gestures and examples that will be better designed for expressing our wishes and convictions. Then these expressions will be submitted to immense, intelligent, intention-understanding programs that then will themselves construct the actual, new programs
In order for that to happen, though, we will have to invent and learn to use new technologies for "expressing intentions". To do this, we will have to break away from our old, though still evolving, programming languages, which are useful only for describing processes. But this brings with it some serious risks!.
The first risk is that it is always dangerous to try to relieve ourselves of the responsibility of understanding exactly how our wishes will be realized. Whenever we leave the choice of means to any servants we may choose then the greater the range of possible methods we leave to those servants, the more we expose ourselves to accidents and incidents.
The ultimate risk comes when our greedy, lazy, master-minds attempt to take that final step––of designing goal-achieving programs that are programmed to make themselves grow increasingly powerful, by self-evolving methods that augment and enhance their own capabilities. ...
Consider how one can scarcely but see a hammer except as something to hammer with
An icon's job is not to represent the truth about how an object (or program) works. An icon's purpose is, instead, to represent how that thing can be used! And since the idea of a use is in the user's mind––and not inside the thing itself––the form and figure of the icon must be suited to the symbols that have accumulated in the user’s own development
Now it is easy enough to say that the mind is a society, but that idea by itself is useless unless we can say more about how it is organized. If all those specialized parts were equally competitive, there would be only anarchy, and the more we learned, the less we'd be able to do. So there must be some kind of administration, perhaps organized roughly in hierarchies, like the divisions and subdivisions of an industry or of a human political society.