Nature of the Universe: Mind and Matter

Science tells us that everything in the universe is made of particles, waves, and so on. But what about minds and meaning? Could thoughts and feelings be made up of chemicals and electricity, or are they some other kind of thing? Does a scientific view of the world allow for the existence of free will? Of rationality? Of meaningful thoughts at all? In this colloquium we will examine these questions by thinking about recent work in philosophy and science.

Course materials:

For syllabus, assignments, readings, announcements, and other material please see the course page on TCU Online.

Philosophy/psychology/cognitive science in the news

Other content relevant to class

What is it like to be a bat?

Mind and language

Mechanisms and moral responsibility

Artificial intelligence

  • Have a conversation with a chatbot! The most famous are probably ELIZA (created in the 1960s) and ALICE (created in the 1990s). Newer bots may be more convincing, but you may be surprised at how these old bots perform.

  • The wonderful podcast Undiscovered has an episode about the potential for social interactions with robots, and whether we can resist ascribing mental states to social robots even when we know they merely mimic human behavior.

  • Geoffrey Hinton, one of the researchers most responsible for the development of “deep learning” networks, has some interesting thoughts on the future.

  • In 2017 there was a popular news story that Facebook shut down an AI experiment because the chatbots became self-aware and developed their own secret language. But the story was very misleading—Snopes has a fact-check.

Plant intelligence

  • You might augment your reading of Chamovitz by checking out the Nature documentary “What Plants Talk about” (sometimes on Netflix; currently on YouTube). It covers a lot of similar ground, including factors in dodder predation and some chemical signaling strategies that Chamovitz doesn’t describe in his chapter.



Based on this image, which is based on this article.