To Be Human: Minds, Robots, Clones and Zombies
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|Course Dates||Weeks||Meeting Times||Status||Instructor(s)||CRN|
|July 01, 2013 - July 12, 2013||2||M-F 12:45-3:35P||Waitlisted||Eoin Ryan||10011|
What will you do when the robots try to take over the world? How will you persuade them that you shouldn't be eliminated as a pest of slightly above average biological intelligence? This might sound like the sort of silly question someone who watches too many Terminator movies and reads too many manga would ask. But how you answer this question is quite serious. Rather than fight the robots, which is a losing move anyway (they’re robots: they’re made of metal…and they probably have ray guns!), you would have to reason with them. You would explain to the robots that you have a mind, you are conscious, you are a person, and that in virtue of all these things you deserve respect, and you have an inviolable right to life. Sounds good, but can you really articulate the meaning words like reason, mind, consciousness, personhood, respect and rights? How would you prove to the robots that you are or deserve any of these things? The goal of this course is to look at these ideas, which are very common and operative at all levels in our society, and yet are ideas that are very hard to understand.
The course approaches these questions from a philosophical point of view, especially the philosophy of mind, but we will also delve into ethics, epistemology and metaphysics. In addition, we will look at ideas from other fields, such as psychology, computer science, and neuroscience. We will also explore examples from literature and pop culture to spur our imaginations. We will begin with René Descartes, the seventeenth-century French philosopher who has plenty to say about the mind. We will move from Descartes through some of the most important ideas in philosophy of mind and psychology to explore questions about the mind itself (and what thinking is), the nature of consciousness (and if there is a difference between being smart and being sentient), puzzles over where our personal identities reside (in our bodies, our minds, our memories, the legal system…) and what it is to “know yourself” (and why that is different to knowing about the rest of the world). We will look at surprising data from psychology that show us we often don’t think the way we think we think, and wonder how much scientific fields such as neuroscience can tell us about the lived experience of being human.
By the end of the course you will have learned how to think like a philosopher " analytically, critically logically, and creatively. You will have practice writing clear and rigorous texts. Above all, you will have participated in lots of discussion, debate and other classroom activities. You’ll have thought very hard about some difficult questions, and you’ll have worked through some fun and informative thought experiments. You’ll have read canonical philosophers like Descartes and David Hume, but also up-to-date research in philosophy, psychology and other areas, and you’ll have thought about some well-known literature and movies in new ways. You won’t be given definitive answers to questions about the mind or personhood or consciousness, because no one has worked those out yet. But you will have learnt a lot of philosophy and psychology, and you may have begun to develop your own answers to some of those questions
There are no specific prerequisites. Students should be prepared to read difficult texts, to think hard, to debate, and to write. Some parts of the course will be more technical (logic, computer science, psychology) and some will be more humanistic or literary.