Minds and Machines (spring 2016)

David Chalmers

E-mail: chalmers at nyu dot edu
Course website: http://consc.net/mm.html
Class meetings: Tuesday/Thursday 2-3:15pm, Tisch Hall LC9
Office hours: Tuesday 3:30-5pm (5 Washington Place, 604)

Teaching Assistant: Andrew Lee (andrewyuanlee at gmail dot com)
Recitations: Monday/Tuesday 9:30-10:45am


This course will be an introduction to some central issues in philosophy through the lens of modern technology. We will consider issues such as "How do we know about the external world?", "What is the relationship between mind and body?", "What do we really value?", and "Can machines be conscious?" in part by thinking hard about technologies such as virtual reality, smartphones, the Internet, and artificial intelligence.

The course will be divided into three broad parts:

1. Reality: Virtual reality and the external world

2. Minds: Consciousness and the mind-body problem

3. Machines: Artificial intelligence


There is no textbook. All readings are available on the web. If you have trouble finding any reading, or to find related readings, try searching PhilPapers.

Some books that you might find useful as supplementary reading:


There will be three papers of 4-6 pages each (one for each of the three parts of the course) and a final exam (Tuesday May 17, 2pm), weighted just under 25% each. Some small weight around the margins will also be given to class participation and attendance, with occasional quizzes playing a role.

Late papers will be penalized (one grade step for 1-3 days late, two steps for 4-7 days late, one full grade for 1-2 weeks late, no papers accepted after that), except with medical documentation.  No incompletes will be given, except for very good medical reasons.   If you have special needs, let me know soon. Attendance at discussion section is required; if you miss more than two meetings, your grade will suffer. Plagiarism will lead to automatic failure and report.

Class practices.

Please arrive on time and don't pack up before the end (I'll try to end on time!). It's OK to use laptops in the classroom for class purposes, but don't use smartphones except in emergencies. I encourage everyone to take part in class discussion, in a balanced way in which no individual dominates. Please pay attention to these guidelines for respectful discussion in philosophy.

Tips on doing philosophy

Here are some very useful resources on how to write philosophy papers. Read these carefully!


Here is a very approximate week-by-week plan for the course, with associated readings.  Note that this is very likely to be revised as things develop, and further readings will be added.


Week 1 (Jan 26, 28): Introduction


Week 2 (Feb 2, 4): Skepticism

John Pollock, Brain in a Vat

Andrew Skegg, Are you a brain in a vat? (video)

Jennifer Nagel, The problem of skepticism [video linked on NYU classes page]

Rene Descartes, First and Second Meditations

Further background reading:

Andrew Chapman, External-world skepticism

Ned Markosian, Do you know you are not a brain in a vat?

Eric Schwitzgebel, 1% skepticism

Matrix Card Experiment

Week 3 (Feb 9, 11): The Simulation Argument and God

Feb 2: The Simulation Argument (and Boltzmann brains)

Nick Bostrom, The Simulation Argument: Why the Probability that You are Living in a Matrix is quite high

Nick Bostrom, Are you living in a computer simulation?

Dennis Overbye, Big brain theory: Have cosmologists' lost theirs?

Feb 4: God and Simulation theology

Stacy Transacos, What if we lived in a simulated universe and worshipped a teenager?

Eric Steinhardt, Theological implications of the simulation argument

George Dvorsky, The Seven Most Intriguing Philosophical Arguments for the Existence of God

Stanislaw Lem, Non Serviam

Week 4 (Feb 16, 18): Responses to Skepticism

Berkeley, Principles of Human Knowledge

G.E. Moore, Proof of an External World

David Chalmers, The Matrix as Metaphysics

Jennifer Nagel, Older and newer answers to skepticism [links from NYU classes page)

Week 5 (Feb 23, 25): Real Virtual Reality

David Chalmers, The Matrix as Metaphysics, continued

David Chalmers, Perception and Illusion in Virtual Reality (N.B. just in lecture form)

David Velleman, Virtual Selves

Week 6 (March 1, 3): Value

Robert Nozick, The Experience Machine

Jim Pryor, What's so bad about living in the matrix?

Part 2: MINDS

Week 7 (March 8, 10): The Problem of Consciousness

David Chalmers, How do you explain consciousness? (TED talk)

David Chalmers, The Puzzle of Conscious Experience (also more in-depth version)

Daniel Dennett, Facing backward on the problem of consciousness

Patricia Churchland, The hornswoggle problem

David Chalmers, Moving forward on the problem of consciousness (section 2.1)

Week 8 (March 22, 24): Dualism

Princess Elisabeth and Rene Descartes, Correspondence

Frank Jackson, Epiphenomenal qualia

Raymond Smullyan, An Epistemological Nightmare

Brie Gertler, In defense of mind-body dualism

Week 9 (March 29, 31): Materialism and Panpsychism

J.J.C. Smart, Sensations and Brain Processes

Janet Levin, Functionalism

Galen Strawson, Why physicalism entails panpsychism

David Chalmers, Panpsychism and panprotopsychism (also The combination problem for panpsychism)

Christof Koch, Tononi's "complex" theory of consciousness

Scott Aaronson, Why I am not an Integrated Information Theorist

Week 10 (April 5, 7): The Extended Mind

Andy Clark and David Chalmers, The Extended Mind

David Chalmers, Is Your Phone Part of your Mind? (TED talk)

Nicholas Carr, Is Google Making Us Stupid?

Michael Coulter, Is technology eating our brains?

Michael Lynch, How the Internet promotes a new way of knowing (plus video)


Week 11 (April 12, 14): The Turing Test and The Chinese Room

Bisson, They're made of meat!

Alan Turing, Computing Machinery and Intelligence

The Turing Test (encyclopedia article)

The Loebner Prize

John Searle, Minds, brains, and programs

Terrel Miedaner, The Soul of Martha, a Beast, and The Soul of the Mark III Beast

Week 12 (April 19, 21): The Singularity

David Chalmers, The Singularity: A Philosophical Analysis

Susan Schneider, Future minds: Transhumanism, cognitive enhancement, and the future of persons

Week 13 (April 28): Ethics of AI

Nick Bostrom and Eliezer Yudkowsky, The ethics of artificial intelligence

Patrick Lin, The ethical dilemma of self-driving cars (TED Ed Video)

Patrick Lin, Here's a terrible idea: Robot cars with adjustable ethics settings

Week 14 (May 3, 5): Mind Uploading

Daniel Dennett, Where am I? (video version)

Daniel Dennett, Where am I? (written version)

Greg Egan, Learning to be Me

David Chalmers, Mind Uploading: A Philosophical Analysis

Susan Schneider and Joe Corabi, The Metaphysics of Uploading

Bonus materials: Movies, etc.

[On each topic, listed roughly in order of philosophical engagement and relevance.]

Reality: *The Matrix, *Waking Life, Existenz, The Truman Show, Inception, Source Code, Rick and Morty (The Ricks Must Be Crazy), Lawnmower Man, The Thirteenth Floor, Event Horizon, Total Recall, Tron, Vanilla Sky, Avatar.

Minds: *Being John Malkovich, *Memento, Dark City, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Prestige, The Hard Problem (play), Ghost in the Shell, A Scanner Darkly, Orphan Black, The Island, Self/less, The Man with Two Brains, Minority Report, Freaky Friday.

Machines: *Her, *Ex Machina, Star Trek (The Measure of a Man), Blade Runner, Black Mirror, Humans, Terminator, Transcendence, 2001, I, Robot, Robot and Frank, Chappie, Avengers: Age of Ultron.