Minds and Machines (fall 2018)

David Chalmers

E-mail: chalmers at nyu dot edu
Course website: http://consc.net/classes/mm2018.html
Class meetings: Tuesday/Thursday 3:30-4:45pm, Silver 520
Office hours: Wednesday 3:30-5pm (5 Washington Place, 506)

Teaching Assistants: Iliana Gioulatou (ig921 at nyu dot edu), Arden Koehler (ardenlkoehler at gmail dot com)


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 especially focus on virtual reality and computer simulations as a tool for thinking about philosophical questions.

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


The textbook is a partial draft of my book-in-progress Reality 2.0: Artificial Worlds and the Great Problems of Philosophy. This text will be made available over NYU Classes. All other 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 (Thursday December 20), 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.

Over the course of the semester, each student may request up to two one-day extensions or one two-day extension (in total) for the papers. As long as such a request is made by the deadline (email your TA), it will be automatically granted. Any other extensions will be approved only under special circumstances. Late papers will be penalized one grade step [e.g. A to A-] for 1-3 days late, two steps for 4-7 days late, one full grade [e.g. A to B] for 1-2 weeks late, no papers accepted after that.

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 (Sep 4, 6): Introduction

*R2.0, Chapters 1 and 2


Week 2 (Sep 11, 13): Knowledge and Skepticism

*R2.0, Chapters 2 and 3

*Rene Descartes, First and Second Meditations

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]

Further background reading:

Christia Mercer, Descartes’ debt to Teresa of Ávila, or why we should work on women in the history of philosophy

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 4 (Sep 18, 20): Responses to Skepticism and the Simulation Argument

*R2.0, Chapter 4 and 5

*Berkeley, Principles of Human Knowledge (paragraphs 1-23 required).

*G.E. Moore, Proof of an External World

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

Nick Bostrom, Are you living in a computer simulation?

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

Videos on the simulation hypothesis: Is reality real?, Asimov Memorial Debate, StarTalk, Fox5

Video: Are you a Boltzmann brain?

Week 4 (Sep 25, 27): God and Metaphysics

*R2.0, Chapters 7 and 8

Sep 25: 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

Sep 27: Metaphysics and It-From-Bit

John Conway's Game of Life

Rachel Thomas, It from bit?

Week 5 (Oct 2, 4): Reality

*R2.0, Chapters 6 and 9

Philip K. Dick, How to build a universe that doesn't fall apart two days later

O.K. Bouwsma, Descartes' evil genius

David Chalmers, The Matrix as Metaphysics (bonus: "The structuralist response to skepticism has a more technical treatment)

Jennifer Nagel, New responses to skepticism

Week 6 (Oct 11): Virtual Reality

*David Chalmers, The virtual and the real (pp. 1-21)

R2.0, Chapter 10

David Velleman, Virtual Selves

Week 7 (Oct 16, 18): Ethics and Value

*Robert Nozick, The Experience Machine

*David Chalmers, The virtual and the real (pp. 24-30)

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

Judith Jarvis Thomson, The trolley problem

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Act and rule utilitarianism

Videos: Would you opt for a life with no pain?, Hedonism and the experience machine.

The trolley dilemma: Would you kill one person to save five?

Michael Madary and Thomas Metzinger, Real Virtuality: A Code of Ethical Conduct. Recommendations for Good Scientific Practice and the Consumers of VR Technology

Part 2: MINDS

Week 8 (Oct 23, 25): The Mind/Body Problem, Dualism

*R2.0, Chapter 11

*Princess Elisabeth and Rene Descartes, Correspondence

Raymond Smullyan, An Unfortunate Dualist

Brie Gertler, In defense of mind-body dualism

Week 9 (Oct 30, Nov 1): Materialism, Consciousness

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

Hilary Putnam, The Nature of Mental States

Janet Levin, Functionalism

Ned Block, Troubles with Functionalism (esp. pp. 279-81)

*R2.0, Chapter 12

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

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

Week 10 (Nov 6, 8): Consciousness, Illusionism, Panpsychism

*Frank Jackson, Epiphenomenal qualia

Videos: What Mary didn't know (Dorian Electra), Mary the Super Scientist (Galen Strawson)


Daniel Dennett, Facing backward on the problem of consciousness

Patricia Churchland, The hornswoggle problem

Keith Frankish, Illusionism as a theory of consciousness

David Chalmers, The meta-problem of consciousness


*Hedda Hassel Morch, Is matter conscious?

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 11 (Nov 13, 15): 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 12 (Nov 20): Review/TBD


Week 13: (Nov 27, 29): 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 14 (Dec 4, 6): The Singularity

*David Chalmers, The Singularity: A Philosophical Analysis

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

Nick Bostrom and Eliezer Yudkowsky, The ethics of artificial intelligence

Week 15 (Dec 11, 13): 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: *Ex Machina, *Her, Star Trek (The Measure of a Man), *Westworld, Blade Runner, Black Mirror, Humans, Terminator, Transcendence, 2001, I, Robot, Robot and Frank, Chappie, Avengers: Age of Ultron.