Minds and Machines

, Volume 9, Issue 1, pp 3–28 | Cite as

Why not Artificial Consciousness or Thought?

  • Richard H. Schlagel


The purpose of this article is to show why consciousness and thought are not manifested in digital computers. Analyzing the rationale for claiming that the formal manipulation of physical symbols in Turing machines would emulate human thought, the article attempts to show why this proved false. This is because the reinterpretation of ‘designation’ and ‘meaning’ to accommodate physical symbol manipulation eliminated their crucial functions in human discourse. Words have denotations and intensional meanings because the brain transforms the physical stimuli received from the microworld into a qualitative, macroscopic representation for consciousness. Lacking this capacity as programmed machines, computers have no representations for their symbols to designate and mean. Unlike human beings in which consciousness and thought, with their inherent content, have emerged because of their organic natures, serial processing computers or parallel distributed processing systems, as programmed electrical machines, lack these causal capacities.

physical symbols formal programs neural networks designation interpretation representation semantics intensional meaning extensional meaning causal capacities emergence levels 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard H. Schlagel
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyThe George Washington UniversityWashington, D.C.USA

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