Anthropology 418/618: Can Humans Think?
Can Humans Think? The question is an earnest one. Computer scientists,
evolutionary biologists, and cognitive psychologists have been asking
the question "Can Machines Think?" since Alan Turing first posed the question
in 1950. The equation of 'brain' and 'computer', not to mention 'brain'
and 'thought', is questioned only in the breach. Furthermore, philosophers
throughout the twentieth century heralded the "death of the subject,"
the death of Man", "the end of philosophy" and the "task of thinking"
-- often in terms derived from, or parallel to science and technology:
computer intelligence, environmental or nuclear apocalypse, and genetic
engineering. Throughout there is concern with the super-cession of humans--
either by machines, or as objects of philosophic reflection. Yet no one
asks: "Can Humans Think?"
Implicit in these questions: the question of humanism, of ethical action
as humans; the question of technical progress, or technological determinism;
the questions of eugenics, control, or its lack; the organization of knowledge,
and its collective, social character. Humans today are saturated with
machines that think with us, if not for us: from the complexities of written
and spoken language, to the technologies of memory, figuration, composition,
expectation to the haphazard, collective and ad hoc forms of reasoning
that make up everyday life. The machines we call "new"-- computers, cloning
and genetic modification, nanotechnology-- are new only in the weakest
sense. Their history, their design, their use can all be read carefully
for meaning and conflict that stretches back into the past.
The course is dosed heavily with texts from philosophy, and we will
read them leisurely in order that they can be at least partially absorbed.
However, they are only the framework of the class: our attitude will be
one of social and textual investigation-- of elaborating the historical
and technical contexts of both the philosophical texts we read, and the
technoscientific realities they directly or obliquely address. The burden
of proving the affirmative answer to the title will be on the students,
not on the texts.
Requirements therefore are the following:
Participation in discussion, which implies reading the texts.
Students will be required to present on the readings in a rotating
order (to be determined). Students will research the assigned texts and
topics for historical, social, anecdotal, or bibliographic connections.
An investigative mode of reading and techniques for library and electronic
research will be emphasized. These findings will be periodically presented
to the class in the form of short papers distributed prior to the
Books to buy/order:
Daniel Tiffany, Toy Medium, Berkeley: University of California
Claude Levi-Strauss, The Savage Mind, Chicago: University of
Chicago Pr ess, 1966 .
Jean-Pierre Dupuy, The Mechanization of the Mind, Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 2000 .
Michel Houellebecq, The Elementary Particles, New York: Vintage
Books, 2000 .
- Jan 16. Intro
- Jan 23. These texts will be taken as a set of motifs for the class.
We will return to them repeatedly. Pick one to present on.
A.M. Turing, "Computing Machinery and Intelligence" Mind,
New Series, Vol. 59, No. 236. (Oct., 1950), pp. 433-460. Available
J.C.R. Licklider "Man-Computer Symbiosis" from IRE Transactions
on Human Factors in Electronics, volume HFE-1, Pages 4-11, March
1960. Available online from http://gatekeeper.dec.com/pub/DEC/SRC/research-reports/abstracts/src-rr-061.html
Arthur C. Clarke "The Obsolescence of Man" in Profiles
of the Future, New York: Harper and Row, 1962. In Reader
Ray Kurzweil, The Age of Spiritual Machines, New York:
Penguin Books, 1999. selections. In Reader
Bill Joy, "Why the Future doesn't need us" Wired Magazine,
8.04, Apr 2000. Available at http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.04/
Gilles Deleuze, Foucault, Minneapolis: University
of Minesota, 1988 . Appendix. In Reader
- Jan 30. Immanuel Kant "An answer to the question: What is Enlightenment?"
from Perpetual Peace and other essays, Indianapolis: Hackett
Publishing, 1983 . In reader.
Simon Schaffer "Enlightened Automata," In The Sciences in
Enlightened Europe, ed. William Clark, Jan Golinksi, Simon Schaffer,
Chicago, University of Chicago Press. In Reader
Michel Foucault "What is Enlightenment?" In Rabinow ed. The
Foucault Reader New York: Pantheon Books, 1984. In Reader
- Feb 06. Daniel Tiffany, Toy Medium, Berkeley, University
of California Press, 1999. Chapters 1-3
- Feb 07. 12:15 pm Daniel Tiffany will be at Rice to give a talk in
the Anthropology department.
- Feb 13. Tiffany, chapters. 4-6
- Feb 20. # of theses/# students = # of theses per presentation.
Karl Marx "Theses on Feuerbach" Reader.
Walter Benjamin "Theses on the philosophy of History" in Illuminations,
New York: Schocken Books, 1968 . In reader.
Martin Heidegger "Letter on Humanism" in Basic Writings,
ed. David Farrell Krell, New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1977
. In Reader.
- Feb 27. cont'd
- Mar 6. No Class
- Mar 13. Students will pick chapters from Savage Mind and Mechanization
of the Mind to research and report on over the following 5 weeks.
Claude Levi-Strauss, The Savage Mind, Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1966 .
Jean-Pierre Dupuy, The Mechanization of the Mind,
Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000 
Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, Baltlimore: Johns
Hopkins University Press, 1974 . Selections in Reader.
Stefano Franchi, Endgames: Game and Play at the end of
philosophy (PhD. Dissertation, Stanford University), chapters
4-7. In reader.
- Mar 20. cont'd
- Mar 27. cont'd
- Apr 03. cont'd
- Apr 10. cont'd
- Apr 17. Michel Houellebecq, The Elementary Particles,
New York, Vintage Books, 2000 .
Howard Nemerov "Poetry and Meaning" in Howard Nemerov, New
and Seclected Essays, Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press,
- Apr 24. cont'd
Other Important Information:
Incompletes are not given.
Honor Code issues: For the assignments, group investigation and research
is encouraged, but each assignment must be the student's own work. In
the case of group assignments, division of labor will be up to the students,
and any necessary honor code guidelines will be provided.
Any student with a documented disability needing academic adjustments
or accommodations is requested to speak with me during the first two weeks
of class. All discussions will remain confidential. Students with disabilities
will need to also contact Disability Support Services in the Ley Student
Any student with a disability requiring accommodations in this course
is encouraged to contact me after class or during office hours. Additionally,
students will need to contact Disability Support Services in the Ley Student
If you have a documented disability that will impact your work in this
class, please contact me to discuss your needs. Additionally, you will
need to register with the Disability Support Services Office in the Ley