Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi
PHIL 4303.001, PSYC 4390.002
Minds and Machines
Spring 2020
TR 9:30 – 10:45
Online via Zoom


Don Berkich, Ph.D.

Office: FC-280
Hours: TR 11:00 - 12:00, and by online only appointment. All office hours, group and individual, will be held via Zoom. Meeting links/ID's TBA via GroupMe.
Office#: 3976 (do not leave a message, send email or text instead)
Mobile#: 361-944-2756 (never after 9:00 p.m., texts much preferred--be sure to identify yourself!)

Course Description:

Early projections at the dawn of computing technology that computers would soon match and exceed humans in intelligence are now seen as quaint, if not ridiculous. Despite enormous gains in computing power, genuine artificial intelligence has proven entirely elusive. To be sure, computer scientists have had some modest successes. Yet capturing human-level intelligence in a machine has thus far proven to be an intractable problem. At best, we seem to have achieved insect-level intelligence in some of our more complicated robots. The fact that projections about Artificial Intelligence have proven false begs an important question:

What is it about human intelligence that makes the creation of human-level artificial intelligence so problematic?

This question is especially important in light of the fact that modern neuropsychology assumes the human brain is itself a kind of biological computer. That is, researchers operate on the assumption that we are meat machines. In light of this assumption, we consider some of the most important questions in Philosophy, Psychology, and Computer Science:

  • What is the place of the mental in a physical universe?
  • How does the human brain underwrite the human mind, if it does?
  • Are artificial minds possible, and if so, how?
  • Are computational models of perception, intention, and action useful or deceptive?
  • Is intentionality compatible with mechanism?
  • Is autonomy compatible with mechanism?
  • Is consciousness compatible with mechanism?
  • Is identity compatible with mechanism?
  • Are emotions compatible with mechanism?

It is not our goal in this course to argue that Artificial Intelligence is impossible. Rather, it is our goal to understand what makes human intelligence such an extraordinary and astonishing phenomenon by carefully considering some of the more important skeptical challenges to the possibility of artificial intelligence. Along the way, we learn a great deal about machines, on the one hand, and human minds, on the other.

Topics include:

  • Dualism, Idealism, and Materialism
  • Functionalism and Computational Psychology
  • The Turing Test
  • Computability and the Church/Turing Thesis
  • Searle's Chinese Room Thought Experiment
  • The Frame Problem
  • Representationalism and Connectionism
  • Mechanism and Autonomy
  • Robot Intentionality
  • Personhood and Personal Identity
  • Consciousness

Student Learning Outcomes*

As demonstrated by pre and post-test, students will

Learn the names of at least three important philosophers who have written on these topics--e.g., Plato, Putnam, and Turing.

Learn the names of at least three important arguments on these topics--e.g., The Chinese Room Thought Experiment, the Modal Argument, and the Knowledge Argument.

[Special note: Students enrolled in the PSYC 4390.002 cross-listing are under no circumstances permitted to read the following two explanatory notes. Please skip to the "Texts" section.]

*Ignore this. It's just something we're required to have on our syllabi. Pointless drivel. A requirement of the University for accreditation purposes only. A result of the contemptible commodification of education and the corporatization of its institutions. Used as the basis for a pre- and post-test in a facile attempt to demonstrate quality in teaching and learning. Fails to reflect any grasp of the distinction between training and education by presupposing that understanding, discovery, and knowledge can be precisely measured, economized, and thereby controlled. An embarrassing academic fad and an affront to the towering intellects whose investigations we have the privilege of pursuing this semester.**

The professor whose course this is has been informed by the administration that the above statement repudiating Student Learning Outcomes is both 'uncivil' and 'sets a poor example for students'. The professor is deeply grateful and takes no small pride in the administration's echoing (albeit unwittingly and however distantly) Meletus' charges against Socrates. Frankly, there can be no greater honor for those who find inspiration in Socrates the gadfly, Socrates the midwife, and, above all, Socrates the self-stinging stingray.


Boden, M.A. 1990. The Philosophy of Artificial Intelligence. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Chalmers, D.J. 2002. Philosophy of Mind: Classical and Contemporary Readings. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Clark, A. 2001. Mindware: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Cognitive Science. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Haugeland, J. (ed.) 1997. Mind Design II: Philosophy, Psychology, Artificial Intelligence. Cambridge, Mass.:MIT Press.

Sipser, M. 1997. Introduction to the Theory of Computation. Boston: PWS Publishing Company.

*Useful but not required--selections from these and other sources will be provided as necessary.

Requirements Post Covid-19

I'm pleasantly surprised to discover that, unlike my other classes, no changes need be made to the requirements for Minds & Machines except that 1) all in person meetings for the term paper prospectus and the term paper rough draft will be held via Zoom and 2) all assignments will be submitted, scored, and returned via email. So the rest of this is as before.

The Problem Sets

Problem sets will be assigned approximately every week. The problem sets will be frontloaded in the course so as to leave time at the end of the semester for the term paper. There are a total of ten problem sets. The two lowest-scoring problem sets are dropped.

The Term Paper

There will be a single, substantial paper due at the end of the term. The term paper will be developed in four stages: Proposal, Annotated Bibliography, Draft, and Final Copy. All due dates are tentative pending problem set and lecture pacing. Content and format instructions will be provided as each stage is assigned.

Grading Formula

There are 1000 points possible as follows:

Problem Sets: 50 points each
Term Paper Prospectus: 50 points
Critically Annotated Bibliography: 100 points
Rough Draft: 200 points
Final Draft: 250 points

Total Points = Sum of the Best Eight Problem Sets + Term Paper Prospectus + Critically Annotated Bibliography + Rough Draft + Final Draft

Course Grade is determined by the following scale:

A 900-1000
B 800 - 899
C 700 - 799
D 600 - 699
F 000 - 599


The professor assumes that students enrolled in this course are sincere student-scholars. That is, the professor shall treat students with the respect due scholars, and students shall do their best to live up to the standards of scholars. To wit,


Scholars carefully read assignments in advance of class, take notes on their reading, explore specific issues in discussion with fellow scholars, and follow-up class by re-reading portions of the required readings and exploring suggested readings.


Scholars are eager to respectfully, openly, and critically discuss arguments and issues raised by the readings. Scholars are adept at following a line of reasoning wherever it may lead. Most importantly, scholars welcome the insights and criticisms of their peers: A scholar understands that it is possible to entertain a proposition without believing it, just as it is possible to present an argument without personally endorsing the argument. Scholars enjoy vigorous deliberations and are always careful to treat fellow scholars with patience and good humor.


Scholars fully immerse themselves in assignments and never assume that an assignment is only legitimate if it will be covered on a test. Scholars are naturally curious and see every assignment as an opportunity to explore new issues, see old issues in new light, and hone their growing skills.


Scholars are very careful to give proper credit and maintain the highest standards of scholarly conduct. Scholars who fail to meet their responsibilities let themselves down, the professor, and, most importantly, their peers. In an effort to protect this community they will be prosecuted by the professor to the fullest extent allowable by university guidelines.


Scholars always attend class barring serious injury, illness, or disaster. Scholars view class-time as rare and valuable for the thought it evokes and the opportunities it presents. Scholars arrive early for class and never leave class early without obtaining prior approval from the professor. Scholars who miss class are responsible for obtaining class-notes, doing the readings, and fully answering any exam questions derived from class discussion.


Due to a raft of recent research and the professor's own experience, no scholar will use a screen (laptop, tablet, cellphone, reader, or what have you) in class without some specific requirement authorized by the office of disability services and discussed with the professor in advance. Scholars so addicted to their screens they cannot refrain from consulting them will be dismissed from class. Obviously this note only pertains to in-class meetings, which we are no longer holding.

A Special Note Regarding These Extraordinary Circumstances

It has been said that online education is ten times the effort for a tenth of the benefit, which I've always found a rather generous sentiment. Nevertheless, we will do our level best to rise to the challenge. It is going to require patience, mine and yours. It is going to require effort, mine and yours. And it is going to require good humor, mine and yours.

When larger events threaten to make a mere college course pale to insignificance, we shall soldier on, doing the best we can to help one another under trying and tragic circumstances. In the end, we shall be the better for it, and we shall have made our friends and parents proud by dint of our fierce effort and indomitable spirit.

Additional Notes

This syllabus is authoritative and tentative. That is, the syllabus as it appears on this page in its most recent form supersedes any other version with which it conflicts. At the same time, any change to the syllabus will be made here and announced in class. Further, no change will be made which would be detrimental to the student's grade. The professor and the students are only responsible for the syllabus as it appears in its entirety here, including particularly the schedule on the course home page, which should be considered part of this syllabus.

Any student missing a due date must provide a documented, acceptable reason according to university guidelines. Students with a proper excuse for missing a due date will be given a reasonable extension.

Subject to professor discretion, students without a proper excuse for missing a due date will lose 20 points per day after the due date.

Required University Note to Students with Disabilities: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal anti-discrimination statute that provides comprehensive civil rights protection for persons with disabilities. Among other things, this legislation requires that all students with disabilities be guaranteed a learning environment that provides for reasonable accommodation of their disabilities. If you believe you have a disability requiring an accommodation, please call or visit Disability Services at (361) 825-5816 in Corpus Christi Hall 116. If you are a returning veteran and are experiencing cognitive and/or physical access issues in the classroom or on campus, please contact the Disability Services office for assistance at (361) 825-5816.

Required University Note on Dropping a Class:* I hope that you never find it necessary to drop this or any other class. However, events can sometimes occur that make dropping a course necessary or wise. Please consult with your academic advisor, the Financial Aid Office, and me, before you decide to drop this course. Should dropping the course be the best course of action, you must initiate the process to drop the course by going to the Student Services Center and filling out a course drop form. Just stopping attendance and participation WILL NOT automatically result in your being dropped from the class. April 6th, 2018 is the last day to drop a class with an automatic grade of “W” this term.

*Please note that the professor whose course this is did not write this note, despite its having been written in the first-person. Whoever it was meant well, no doubt.

Required College of Liberal Arts Note on Academic Advising: The College of Liberal Arts requires that students meet with an Academic Advisor as soon as they are ready to declare a major. Degree plans are prepared in the CLA Academic Advising Center. The University uses an online Degree Audit system. Any amendment must be approved by the Department Chair and the Office of the Dean. All courses and requirements specified in the final degree plan audit must be completed before a degree will be granted. The CLA Academic Advising Office is located in Driftwood #203. For more information, please call 361-825-3466.

Required College of Liberal Arts Note on the Grade Appeal Process: As stated in University Procedure 13.02.99.C2.01, Student Grade Appeal Procedures, a student who believes that he or she has not been held to appropriate academic standards as outlined in the class syllabus, equitable evaluation procedures, or appropriate grading, may appeal the final grade given in the course. The burden of proof is upon the student to demonstrate the appropriateness of the appeal. A student with a complaint about a grade is encouraged to first discuss the matter with the instructor. For complete details, including the responsibilities of the parties involved in the process and the number of days allowed for completing the steps in the process, see University Procedure 13.02.99.C2.03, Student Grade Appeals. These documents are accessible online at: For assistance and/or guidance in the grade appeal process, students may contact the Dean’s office in the college in which the course is taught or the Office of the Provost. For complete details on the process of submitting a formal grade appeal, please visit the College of Liberal Arts website, For assistance and/or guidance in the grade appeal process, students may contact the Associate Dean’s Office.

By accepting this syllabus the student indicates that the syllabus has been read, all requirements are understood, and all policies are acknowledged.