Trans. Kim Jones (extract only)

1.1 Mechanist Philosophies

1.1.1 Different types of Mechanism

I distinguish the following mechanist hypotheses:


Some machines can behave as thinking beings (living, conscious etc.)  


Some machines can think (living beings, conscious beings, have a  
private life etc.) (STR-MEC)


I am a machine (or - you are a machine, or again - human beings are  
machines) (IND-MEC)

By replacing "machine" by "digital machine" one obtains the  
corresponding digital theses.

The behaviourist digital mechanism BEH-DIG-MEC corresponds largely to  
that of Turing in his 1950 article. In the same way, the strong  
digital mechanism STR-DIG-MEC corresponds to what is called in the  
literature the strong artificial intelligence thesis (strong AI).

In this work I am exclusively interested in indexical and digital  
mechanism (IND-DIG-MEC or just IDM). "Digitality" necessitates  
Church's Thesis, which is why the digital aspect is explained in its  
turn in the second part. There, I will show how a procedure, due  
essentially to Goedel, permits an indexical treatment of machines in  


                                IND-MEC => STR-MEC => BEH-MEC, and
                                BEH-MEC ≠> STR-MEC ≠> IND-MEC.
                                (with or without the hypothesis of digitality)

Reasoning:  One admits that humans know how to think (conscious  
beings, having private lives etc.) In this case IND-MEC entails STR- 
MEC and STR-MEC entails BEH-MEC. That BEH-MEC does not entail STR-MEC  
is supported by Weizenbaum (1976) (see also Gunderson {footnote 1}  
1971). STR-MEC does not entail IND-MEC, since the fact that machines  
are able to think does not entail that they alone are able to think.  
It is conceivable that machines are able to think without we ourselves  
being machines. Wang (1974) presents a similar reasoning.  
Nevertheless, numerous philosophers make implicit use of an opposing  
opinion: STR-MEC => IND-MEC, see for example Arsac 1987.

{Footnote 1: Gunderson 1971 criticises the Turing Test. The Turing  
Test is a test for BEH-MEC. Simply put, a machine (hidden) passes the  
test if it is able to pass itself off as a human being during a  
"conversation" by means of a computer keyboard terminal.}

1.1.2 Mechanist Philosophy: Historical Summary

Contemporary digital mechanist philosophy is due in large measure to  
Descartes and Hobbes {footnote 2} (see Rogow 1986, Bernhardt 1989).  
Descartes wanted to distinguish Man from the animals. He argues that  
the animal, as much as Man's body (including the brain), is a machine.  
He understood by this a finite assembly of of material components that  
unequivocally determine the behaviour of the whole. Descartes surmises  
that the soul is not mechanical. In separating the soul from the body  
in this way, and thus the mind from matter, he is the originator of  
the dualist position, widely encompassed by the philosophy of mind.  
One speaks of Cartesian Dualism.

There follows three arguments that Descartes presented in favour of  
his distinction of man from the animal-as-machine (We note that this  
distinction entails the negation of IND-MEC.)

{footnote 2: One can detect some mechanist affirmations or questions  
among (pre and post-Socratic, though not necessarily materialist)  
philosophers, from Greek antiquity (cf Timaeus and Plato, see also  
Odifreddi 1989). Among Chinese philosophers, for example Lao-Tzu, a  
certain monk is admired for having passed off his "automated" servants  
as flesh and blood beings. Among Hindu philosophers for example, in  
the "Questions to the King Milinda", the human body is compared to the  
chariot, and the human mind is compared to the different parts of the  
chariot, similar to Hume's (1739) manner of tackling the problem of  
identity with his boat. The temptation to set up artefacts in the  
image of Man is also a component of several myths, (for ex. the Golem  
in Jewish culture, see for ex. Breton 1990). It is no exaggeration to  
maintain that the very idea of mechanism appears wherever and whenever  
machines themselves are developed.}

1) Animals are not endowed with reason and cannot engage in linguistic  

This argument is losing credibility since language and reason seem  
more accessible to today's machines than for example, emotion which is  
communally allowed in the case of certain animals (see for ex. Lévy  
1987). Here Descartes takes Aristotle's position which asserts that  
Man is a "reasoning animal".

2) Machines are finite beings. A finite being cannot conceive of the  
infinite. Now, I am able (said Descartes) to conceive of the infinite.  
Thus I am not a machine.

  This argument against IND-MEC brings into relief two fundamental  

                                                a) Can man conceive of infinity?
                                                b) Can a machine conceive of 

Question a) differentiates Hobbes' point of view from Descartes'.  
Hobbes surmises that he cannot in effect conceive of infinity.

3) A machine can only carry out particular tasks, as it turns out,  
those tasks for which it was constructed. In effect, Descartes is  

"Since, in the case that reason is a universal instrument that  
participates in every sort of encounter, these organs need a certain  
particular disposition for each and every action; from this comes the  
idea that it is morally impossible that a machine might possess  
sufficient diversity such that it might act in every living occurrence  
in the same way that our reason assists our actions (Descartes,  
"1953", page 165).

The idea of a universal machine had nevertheless crossed the mind of  
Raymond Lulle (1302) whom Descartes had studied. This same idea will  
reappear with Leibnitz, culminating in the work of Turing, and this  
will be explained in the second part.

La Mettrie will rehash Descartes' animal-as-machine for the purpose of  
extending it to Man (La Mettrie 1748, see also Gunderson 1971).

In parallel with Descartes, Hobbes himself develops the mechanist  
hypothesis (Rogow 1986). On can date Hobbes' motivation toward  
mechanism from the time of his discovery of geometry. Having been  
particularly impressed by the fact that he might have been convinced  
by a *finite communication* based on logical geometrical reasoning,  
Hobbes conceives of the mechanistic character of thinking. He then  
thinks that it should be possible to reduce thinking to addition and  
subtraction. (see Webb 1980). He is thus very close to the  
*functionalist* position in the philosophy of mind: that the additions  
and multiplications might be realisable by a *telegraphic network* , a  
*hydraulic system*, an *electromagnetic device* , or even *a  
windmill*, a *catapult* or a *calculating device* (ordinateur), citing  
Searle's enumeration (Searle 1984). Thought is thereby reduced to  
operations not necessarily equipment-dependent, and to the constituent  
matter employed to realise these operations. La Mettrie, after his own  
fashion, argues in something like the same sense:

"Thus a Soul of mud, discovering in the twinkling of an eye, the  
relations and the consequences of an infinity of ideas difficult to  
conceive, would be preferable evidently to an ignorant and stupid  
Soul, which might be made of all the more precious Elements" (La  
Mettrie 1748).

Similarly, Lafitte engages us on the subject of Babbage, precursor of  
19th century information processing, to which we will return in the  
second part:

"For Babbage, all machines being a composition of different organs  
linked together in a complex manner, the important thing to fix is  
less the very form of the organs than the sequencing of their  
functions, which relates to organic linkages that cause the ensemble  
to function." (Lafitte 1930).

Differing with Descartes, Hobbes concludes that it is not possible  
that Man - whom he considers to be a finite being - might conceive of  
the infinite. Hobbes' motivation, being finitist and indexical (human  
thought is mechanisable) is therefore opposed to Descartes' animal-as- 
machine and is, in this sense, much closer to the contemporary  
motivation in the direction of artificial intelligence. Soon I will  
return to the relation existing between mechanism and functionalism.

1.1.3 What is a machine?

Given the familiar connotations of the word "machine" - locomotives,  
electric kettles, automobiles, computers, microscopes, dish-washers,  
sewing machines, rice-cookers, time-pieces, mechanism may well seem  

Even if machines are considered to be artefacts of exclusively human  
construction, in other words artificial, the concept of the machine is  
difficult to define. Lafitte, in 1911 argues that just such a  
definition can only be made in vain:

"To claim to be able to define the concept of a machine is to suppose  
that the science of machines has come about, or that it might one day  
come about in all it's perfection. Other than what is chimerically- 
speaking, to assign limits to the development of mechanical forms, is  
to suppose in the first place an entire and complete knowledge of the  
character of every individual present and future mechanism, followed  
by the perfection of a measuring instrument capable of situating each  
into a definitive category according to their ensemble of  
characteristics. But, this again implicitly admits to a massive  
division of sorts, conforming to those contours we can cleanly  
envisage and having no link whatsoever with other bodies." (see also  
further on 2.3)

Similarly, La Mettrie, in "Man as Machine" writes:

"Man is a Machine so composed that it is frankly impossible to  
initially get a clear idea of it and consequently to arrive at a  

What Hobbes and Descartes have in common is that a machine is a  
locally finite being. Its global behaviour is determined by the  
behaviour of its elementary constituents, these being finite in number  
at each instant (call this the "digital aspect"). The number of  
components can nonetheless grow according to the work performed by the  

(to be cont.)




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