Religion

Mind, Machine & Metaphor

Posted by on Friday, May 6, 2011 - 5:02 PM

I am skimming (too many books, too little time) a book which is classified as "philosophical anthropology." The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us about What  it means to be Alive is by Brian Christian.  It's about the Turing test, introduced by Alan Turing in 1950. The test is meant to answer the question, "Can Machines think?" Since 1991, a competition has been held every year. A human judge enters into blind conversation with a machine (a bot) and also with a human. Can the judge determine which is which? Every year the differences diminish.

Christian (degrees in computer science & philosophy from Brown and an MFA in poetry from U. of Washington)  examines the various characteristics of conversation - both bot and human. In comparing conversation with a jazz performance, he highlights the significance of  knowing when to interrupt and when to give up your own turn, when to yield to interruption and when to persist. Journalist John Chancellor is quoted on the importance of simultaneous translation in news reporting, as consecutive translation loses the facial expressions of the person talking. As computers become more and more proficient , there are some things still difficult to simulate: reflection, refraction, a deciduous forest and nude bodies are a few.

 "Metaphor lives a secret life all around us. We utter about one metaphor for every ten to twenty-five words, or about six metaphors a minute."  So says James Geary in his fascinating book I is an Other: the Secret Life of Metaphor and How it Shapes the Way We See the World. Geary traces the story of metaphors from Aristotle to the latest neuroscientific insights.  He looks at metaphor and its relation to  thought, etymology, money, advertising, the body, politics, pleasure, children, science , innovation and psychology.  He concludes that metaphor is a driving force in our society. This book is an entertaining read  that will give you a new awareness of the texture that metaphor adds to everyday life.

 Next up: The Mind and the Machine: What it Means to be Human and Why it Matters by Matthew Dickerson (PhD from Cornell). Dickerson teaches computer and environmental sciences; his book leads the way to central questions about human nature ...are human minds machines?  Are humans completely determined by the physical processes of their bodies? Is the belief in the spiritual side of humans just leftover from the pre-scientific world?  Why does it matter? Dickerson argues that living out a dualist view of humans positively impacts our art, ecology and science.  A book for serious students of "theological anthropology."