Inoculum 2007
Minds, Technology, Humans, and God

Wayne Iba

updated 7/20/2007

8/23/2007:  We're back!  Whew.  I enjoyed the discussions we had.  Now it in time to start thinking about and writing your paper.
7/20/2007: Here is some advice from a former student: "Don't let the book intimidate you."  After wading into the material, she found herself intrigued and engaged.  By the way, she did wonderfully!
7/11/2007: I slightly modified the reading assignments. Some of the web readings are no longer available or have changed locations.  I added a few more essays from The Mind's I.

Overview and Mindset
Reading Assignments
Writing Assignments
Grading Scheme

Welcome to my group's pages for Inoculum 2007.  Here you will find an overview of my intentions for our academic explorations, my philosophy of learning, the grading policies, and most importantly your reading assignments and writing assignments.  If you are in my group, please read this material carefully. 

What are the limits of computational intelligence?  What the implications for human dignity arising from technological advances?  What are the appropriate limits of technology research and development?  Can a computer be intelligent?  What does it mean to be created in the image of God?  These are some of the questions we will consider in readings and discussions during this year's Inoculum.  Ultimately, I hope we get to know ourselves as humans and as individuals a bit better.  But along the way, I hope we gain insights into appropriate uses of technology and problems of Artificial Intelligence and the Philosophy of Mind.

I love to learn.  I hope you do too.  I particularly love exploring the topics of Artificial Intelligence and the Philosophy of Mind.  For many of you, the Inoculum trip will be your first introduction to college.  Just as we will be physically laboring up and down mountains, I hope that you will embrace the mental exercise of wrestling with tough intellectual problems.  Some of the questions we'll encounter have stumped philosophers for 2500 years.  Newer questions have appeared in association with advances in technology but are nevertheless often rooted in the traditional problems.  This is one aspect of the nature of academic work.  Welcome to Westmont.

I intend to learn a lot this summer.  Whether you end up learning as much depends entirely on you.  My philosophy of learning is based on several assumptions.  First, learning happens as a result of asking questions.  Second, learning how to formulate good questions is possibly the most useful skill that can be had.  Third, asking the right questions is often more important than knowing the correct answers (right off).  Fourth, learning is most effective and efficient in a community context where more than one person benefits from the formulation and posing of a particular question followed by the search for answers.

Learning is an adventure.  Have fun with it. 

The primary text is The Mind's I by Douglas Hofstadter and Daniel Dennett.  I think this is a classic book with timeless articles that you will want to keep and pick up again later in your college years and hopefully later in life as well.  The value I see in the book is in the questions that we're forced to consider as we read.  I encourage you to keep several questions in mind as you read.  What is the author trying to accomplish?  What are the author's assumptions and worldview foundations?  What do the author's points have to say about humans?  In what ways do these points conflict with my current views on what it means to be created in the image of God?

For the articles in The Mind's I, be sure to read the reflections as they often provide counterpoint or increased context for deeper understanding.  My target is approximately 300 pages of reading; over five weeks, that is only 60 pages a week.  While that is clearly a modest goal, I hope that you will find the material so intriguing that you choose to read more than what is assigned.

From The Mind's I:
Introduction, pgs 3-22.
Chapter 3, "Rediscovering the Mind", pgs 34-49.
Chapter 4, "Computing Machinery and Intelligence", pgs 53-68.
Chapter 5, "The Turing Test: A coffeehouse conversation", pgs 69-95.
Chapter 7, "The Soul of Martha, a Beast", pgs 100-108.
Chapter 8, "The Soul of the Mark III Beast", pgs 109-115.
Chapter 9, "Spirit", pgs 119-123.
Chapter 11, "Prelude . . . Ant Fugue", pgs 149-201.
Chapter 12, "The Story of a Brain", pgs 202-213.
Chapter 17, "The Riddle of the Universe and Its Solution", pgs 269-283.
Chapter 18, "The Seventh Sally or How Trurl's Own Perfection Led to No Good", pgs 287-295.
Chapter 20, "Is God a Taoist?", pgs 321-343.
Chapter 22, "Minds, Brains, and Programs", pgs 353-382.
Chapter 23, "An Unfortunate Dualist", pgs 383-388.
Chapter 24, "What Is It Like to Be a Bat?", pgs 391-414.
Chapter 25, "An Epistemological Nightmare", pgs 415-429.
Reflections on Chapter 26, pgs 457-460.
Chapter 27, "Fiction", pgs 461-464.

From the Web:
The Matrix as Metaphysics, by David Chalmers.

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Bring with you to the pre-trip group meeting on Thursday, Aug 9, several short essays of your own.  Select three of the five questions below and write short-essay answers. (Note, however, you should think about all five of the questions as they will serve as the basis for our discussions during the trip. Your contribution to discussion counts toward your grade.) You may use a maximum of two (2) pages. They should be single-spaced in 10pt font, double column format with 0.75 inch margins (left and right, 1.25 inches top and bottom) and 0.625 inches between columns. You may use this template to help ensure compliance with the formatting requirements.
  1. To what extent does the Turing Test serve as an effective or accurate assessment of intelligence or "thinking"?
  2. In what sense does it make sense to think of humans as thinking machines?
  3. What consequences would you anticipate if artificial intelligence researchers succeed at building systems that interact with humans and behave at a "normal level of human competence" in a variety of areas?
  4. If intelligent machines are ever produced, what would be the appropriate ethical norms for structuring our interactions with them?
  5. In light of the readings that were assigned, what does it mean to be created in the image of God?
When answering these questions, support your positions. I want to see contact with the readings. Do refer to essays from the text in your responses, but do not waste space with unnecessary or extensive quotations. I've read the text -- I want to read your thoughts on the questions. In other words, you may assume my familiarity with the content as you make your points.

After we return from the trip and drawing upon the perspective gained from our discussions, you will write a second paper on a topic to be announced at the end of the trip. [Sorry, I know you'd like to get an early start on it, but I really want you to write from a perspective that is informed by our group discussions.] At the most, the final paper will be a maximum of four-pages, double spaced.

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The Inoculum counts for one academic credit and one PE credit. Although a single credit may seem insignificant to you (and thus you may be tempted to blow off my assignments), it can be a very efficient way to earn a few grade points. The quantity of work -- reading and writing -- is certainly less than one fourth of a full semester course, so you have the opportunity to earn more grade points for the same amount of work. At the same time, I expect your contributions to discussion and your papers to be very high quality. This is not a freebie unit. However, if you engage the readings, participate in the discussions, and write a clear and concise paper, you'll pick up a number of grade points at a discount overall effort.

I will grade your work based on several components. Your initial written response will count for 20% of your grade. Discussion participation during the trip will count for 30% of the grade and the remaining 50% will be based on your final written paper.  Your contributions to discussion will be evaluated as to the relevance and depth of thought.  Your papers will be evaluated according to clarity, conciseness, and content.  The content is the result of your thinking about and reflecting upon the question and the readings. The clarity is how well you communicate your thinking and reflecting.  Your conciseness measures how efficiently you used words to communicate your thoughts. Here is my abstract grading rubric:

An "A" paper has no typos and no textual problems (transitions, word usage, agreement, etc.).  It also reveals careful thought in reasoning/argumentation and creative thought in drawing upon the readings (and discussions during the trip in the case of your final paper).

A "B" paper might have a couple typos and might reveal careful thought but lack creative insight to the readings or discussions.

A "C" paper would have significant textual problems or would lack evidence of careful thinking about the question, readings and discussions.

A "D" paper would have significant textual problems and would lack evidence of careful thought.

A "Failing" paper would, ....  I don't even want to think about it ... would lack evidence of any thinking or would be written in such a way that it does not resemble English.

Remember, the object is to have fun.  But learning is fun.  No matter where you are starting with respect to writing skills, it is fun to see yourself improve!  Writing might not be fun for all of you, but try to have fun with it anyway.  You might surprise yourself.

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