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  •                                  NETFUTURE
                        Technology and Human Responsibility
    Issue #148                                                  August 5, 2003
                     A Publication of The Nature Institute
               Editor:  Stephen L. Talbott (stevet@netfuture.org)
                      On the Web: http://www.netfuture.org/
         You may redistribute this newsletter for noncommercial purposes.
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    Quotes and Provocations
       When the Mind Dogmatizes about Itself
    Intelligence and Its Artifacts (Stephen L. Talbott)
       Habits of the Technological Mind #1
    About this newsletter
                             QUOTES AND PROVOCATIONS
    When the Mind Dogmatizes about Itself
    Nearly every problem of a technological society is at bottom a problem of
    mind.  In fact, this is true of society in general -- although the issues
    are often posed most sharply by technological developments.  In future
    newsletters I will be dealing more and more, and in more fundamental ways,
    with the relation between mind and machine.  So it may not be a bad time
    to make the following point, which seems to me both straightforward and
    Anyone today who approaches the problem of mind by proclaiming himself
    committed to a materialist or mechanistic solution is a religious zealot.
    Typically, the proclamation runs something like this:  "Science has
    explained the entire world based on physical principle alone.  It makes no
    sense to appeal to some mysterious new principle in order to account for
    the last residue of unexplained phenomena -- the so-called 'mental'
    residue associated with the human brain".
    Leaving aside the fact that we cannot imagine any law whose reality lacks
    a conceptual (mind-like) component, so that "physical principle alone" is
    never actually physical principle alone; and leaving aside the historical
    truth that the "last", obstinate bits of reality troubling existing bodies
    of explanation have often signaled revolution (think of Planck and
    black-body radiation, Einstein and the speed of light) -- even apart from
    these considerations, there is reason to view the materialist commitment
    as a flight into religious zealotry.
    After all, the "last residue" is in fact the first, grounding principle,
    inasmuch as the entire history of scientific explanation has resulted from
    the activity of the "residue".  Far better, then, to assume that what we
    discover about the mind will clarify the truth and error in this history
    than to let the history blindly determine what we will accept as the truth
    of the mind.  When we hear someone declaring that the results of the
    mind's past, unselfenlightened activity should effectively prejudice our
    future understanding of the mi