Marvin Minsky -- one of the fathers of computer science and cofounder of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT -- gives a revolutionary answer to the age-old question: "How does the mind work?"
Minsky brilliantly portrays the mind as a "society" of tiny components that are themselves mindless. Mirroring his theory, Minsky boldly casts The Society of Mind as an intellectual puzzle whose pieces are assembled along the way. Each chapter -- on a self-contained page -- corresponds to a piece in the puzzle. As the pages turn, a unified theory of the mind emerges, like a mosaic. Ingenious, amusing, and easy to read, The Society of Mind is an adventure in imagination....Continua
Quite as I expected, a weirdly assembled collection of brilliant (and a bit mind-fudging) essays at the crossroad of Cognitive Science, Psychology, Artificial Intelligence.
I realized that my thoughts on this book are quite perfectly expressed by Minsky himself, in the postscript:
"This book assumes that any brain, machine, or other thing that has a mind must be composed of smaller things that cannot think at all. The structure of the book itself reflects this view: each page explores a theory or idea that exploits what other pages do. Some readers might prefer a more usual form of story plot. I tried to do that several times, but it never seemed to work; each way I tried to line things up left too many thoughts that would not fit. A mind is too complex to fit the mold of narratives that start out here and end up there; a human intellect depends upon the connections in a tangled web — which simply wouldn't work at all if it were neatly straightened out."
I find it hard to say whether every single idea in this "stunning collage of staccato images" (as Douglas Hofstadter defined it) has withstood the test of time. Surely I wouldn't vouch for Minsky's lines of reasoning about grammar and language, for instance. On the other hand, most often the level of abstraction is such that you can't really object anything. With the very words of Minsky:
"To assemble the overview suggested in this book, I had to make literally hundreds of assumptions. [...] Since most of the statements in this book are speculations, it would have been too tedious to mention this on every page. Instead, I did the opposite — by taking out all words like 'possibly' and deleting every reference to scientific evidence. Accordingly, this book should be read less as a text of scientific scholarship and more as an adventure story for the imagination. Each idea should be seen not as a firm hypothesis about the mind, but as another implement to keep inside one's toolbox for making theories of the mind."
To be perfectly honest, I am deeply convinced that the value of this book is not in the theories it explores as much as in the chance it gives us to follow Minsky's systematic way of reasoning, making arguments, and gaining insights.
After all, we can only look ahead if we stand on the shoulders of giants.
Thanks Marvin, we'll miss you....Continua
I, not me, have once measured time through music, and in doing that I have instantly explored space and created tunes of love and tunes of hate, thoughts and prophecies, longings and madness, yearning, screaming, wishes and fails and rage and fury, a set of memories and ideas, an infinite set I called mâ, as the root of any society which will never be but that I will always remember as the dearest memory of my mind, in the shape of a sequence of a few sounds who don't mean nothing....Continua