20.074 designing mind

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Sun, 25 Jun 2006 08:46:26 +0100

                Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 20, No. 74.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Sat, 24 Jun 2006 11:44:01 +0100
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: designing mind

Consider the following passage from Thomas K Landauer, "Cognitive
Psychology and Computer System Design", in John M Carroll, ed.,
Interfacing Thought: Cognitive Aspects of Human-Computer Interaction
(MIT Press, 1987): 1-25:

>The human mind is an artifact of human culture. Although it is not
>constructed by the deliberate design of a team of people, nevertheless
>it is just one realization of an infinitely pliable system, programmed
>by culture, education, the knowledge base of the society, and the
>demands of the tasks and environments in which it finds itself. What
>phenomena of human cognitive processes to study is a very difficult
>scientific issue. Granted that the mind is an extraordinarily flexible,
>general-purpose device that might perform a vast variety of tasks each
>in a vast variety of ways, which does the scientist who wishes to study
>the "real" mind choose? (p. 19)

The idea of mind as an artefact of culture is appealing -- i.e., that
we, as a culture, make up our mind. But there is, I think, a problem
lurking in the imagery of this passage -- a problem one finds rampant
in writings from those you would expect to be quite philosophically
and philologically self-aware. It is the problem of an assumed model
which has become, as Charles Taylor remarks in Philosophy and the
Human Sciences, cosmological -- i.e. has been taken on silently as
the way things are. (Taylor does a fine job with behaviourism, a now
defunct cosmology, comparing it to AI, which isn't.) One finds the
same thing happening in Jerry Fodor's Modularity of Mind, where mind
computes, full stop, and does so without him for one moment
reflecting on the fact that he's naturalized an artificial vocabulary
and way of talking. In the above passage, note "system",
"programmed", "knowledge base", "general purpose device".

Us literary critics have much work to do.



Dr Willard McCarty | Reader in Humanities Computing | Centre for
Computing in the Humanities | King's College London | Kay House, 7
Arundel Street | London WC2R 3DX | U.K. | +44 (0)20 7848-2784 fax:
-2980 || willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/wlm/
Received on Sun Jun 25 2006 - 04:08:34 EDT

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