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The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is a very substantial and comprehensive reference, which you can search via Google using the form below:|
The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy is a browsable reference book, not a directory.
The Guide to Philosophy on the Internet is a directory entirely on one page, links and annotations, making it the best means of rapid transit to philosophy sites. However, the descriptions are very short, usually only crediting the site's author.
The Dictionary of Philosophy of Mind with concise entries heavily hyperlinked, accepts submissions for blind peer review.
Active Rights, Passive Obligations, and Coercion a Quickfound paper.
A very concise description of what can be said reliably about Reality
Objectivism online at the Ayn Rand Institute, which continues the work of the author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.
Bertrand Russell Society links to articles about an books by the great straight thinker, Bertrand Russell.
The Philosopher's Magazine
The Skeptics Dictionary
Elementary Logic is a good one page summary of the elementary principles of logic, including fallacies to avoid and propositional logic, by James Fieser of the U. of Tennessee at Martin.
Richard Feynman's Cargo Cult Science is an essay about scientific method (or the lack thereof) adapted from his Caltech commencement address in 1974, and in the book Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!
Intro to Scientific Method is a single page short "Introduction to the Scientific Method", by Frank Wolfs of the U. of Rochester.
What are Cybernetics and Systems Science? from Principia Cybernetica.
Cybernetics and Systems links to websites dealing with cybernetics (information theory) and general systems theory.
Norbert Weiner and the Social Sciences is a paper by Felix Geyer and Johannes Van Der Zouwen published online by the Red Feather Institute for Advanced Studies. The paper analyzes the influence of Norbert Wiener's ideas on the social sciences and on social systems, including society as a whole.
The full text of R. Buckminster Fuller's classic Synergetics: Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking
is online here. Bucky told it like it is. From the table of contents, go to "101.00 Definition: Synergy" for the short form.
Synergetics on the WWW links to sites with information on synergetics.
TIME Magazine, January 23, 1950, p. 54 (cover story):|
The great new computers, cried Wiener with mingled alarm and triumph, are not merely mathematical tools. They are, he said, harbingers of a whole new science of communication and control, which he promptly named "cybernetics."* The newest machines, Wiener pointed out, already have an extraordinary resemblence to the human brain, both in structure and function. So far, they have no senses or "effectors" (arms and legs), but why shouldn't they have? There are all sorts of artificial eyes, ears and fingertips (thermometers, strain gauges, pressure indicators, photo-electric tubes) that may be hooked up to machines. The machines can already work typewriters. They can be built to work valves, switches and all of the other control devices common in modern industry...
What is Thinking? Do computers think? Some experts say yes, some say no. Both sides are vehement; but all agree that the answer to the question depends on what you mean by thinking.
The human brain, some computermen explain, thinks by judging present information in the light of past experience. That is roughly what the machines do. They consider figures fed into them (just as information is fed to the human brain by the senses), and measure the figures against information that is "remembered." The machine-radicals ask: "Isn't that thinking?"
Their opponents retort that computers are mere tools that do only what they are told. Professor [Howard] Aiken [head of Harvard's Computation Laboratory], a leader of the conservatives, admits that the machines show, in rudimentary form at least, all the attributes of human thinking except one: imagination. Aiken cannot define imagination, but he is sure it exists and that no machine however clever, is likely to have any.
What is the Brain? Wiener believes that the human brain resembles a computing machine--and vice versa. Dr. Warren McCulloch, professor of psychiatry at the University of Illinois College of Medicine, goes further: he says that the brain is actually a computer, and very like computers built by men.
The brain's essential parts, says McCulloch, are "neurons" (nerve cells). There are about 10 billion of them, and they are living electrical relays, comparable to the relays and vacuum tubes in the machines. The neurons are intricately connected by fine, often branching fibers, so the whole brain is a lacelike network of relays and conductors.
Along the brain's interlaced "wires" run swift electrical pulses generated by the neurons, which serve as living batteries. When a pulse runs out along a fiber, it comes eventually to a complicated little structure called a "synapse" that connects with a fiber of another nerve cell. The pulse may pass through a synapse or it may not pass, no one knows why.
When a pulse or several of them do pass, the second neuron "fires," sending out a pulse of its own. Out of such single pulses--billions of them flashing in zigzags and rivers through the thinking brain--human thoughts and decisions are built.
$300 an Hour. Practical computermen, some of whom deplore McCulloch's analogies, agree with him on one point: that the machines need better memories. The machines are already quicker than the brain: their vacuum tubes act 1,000 times faster than neurons. But their poor memories (rudimentary compared to the brain's) limit their thinking abilities. The punched tapes and cards that some of them spew out are not real internal memories, since they cannot be consulted quickly. They are more like reference libraries.
Harvard's Mark III, soon to be delivered to the Navy, has the best memory of any machine so far. Its memory is housed in fast-spinning aluminum cylinders whose surfaces are coated with black magnetic material. On the black surfaces, its electrical signals print long numbers in the form of magnetized dots. When the cylinder makes its next turn, the dots can be read off again in a small fraction of a second. They can be destroyed, replaced with other numbers or retained permanently.
Its quick "magnetic memory" is what makes Mark III an effective computer. Professor Aiken is so well pleased with it that Mark IV, which Harvard is building for the Air Force, will use the same system. Mark IV will "live" (Aiken, the conservative, says "live") at Harvard permanently, and part of its time will be available to non-military users. Scientists will cheer this news. Nearly all the existing computers do nothing but military work. Only the big I.B.M. machine on Manhattan's Madison Avenue is open to non-government scientists, and I.B.M. charges $300 and hour for its services.
New, radical memory devices are coming along fast. Among the more promising are "memory tubes." One type, developed by Professor F.C. Williams of Manchester, England, uses a thin beam of electrons to print meaningful dot-numbers on its flat end. They can be used in the machine's calculations and erased electrically in a few millionths of a second.
Memory & Weather. A group led by Julian Bigelow of Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study (whose world-famous mathematician, Professor John von Neumann, developed much of the theory behind modern computers) is building these memory tubes into a machine whose workings are folded upon themselves like the brain's cortex. The machine is intended for such ambitious jobs as long-range weather forecasting...
Chemicals & Economics. Other practical computing assignments will come from chemistry... Computermen believe that future chemists will tell the machines to examine thousands of possible compounds in search of the best one, say, a plastic with great elasticity. When such a compound is found, the chemists will set about synthesizing it.
In many other fields the machines will have figuring to do. According to Harvard's Professor Aiken, U.S. economic health depends upon the interaction of 38 industries. But they interact in such complex ways that economists can only guess at present whether they will hatch, a few months later, a boom or a depression. It should be possible for the machines, thinks Aiken, to solve at short intervals a sort of "flow equation" of U.S. economic affairs. After digesting reports on production, payrolls, bank loans, etc., the brainy monsters should be able to forecast economic rain or sunshine. It might even be possible, according to Aiken, to "program" a machine so that it could beat the stock market.
Mechanical Stenographer. Computermen point out that the human brain and the machines speak basically the same language: the simplified language of binary arithmetic. When a stenographer, for example, listens to her boss's dictation, her ears catch sound waves ("In reply to yours of the 4th..."), and turn them into the yes-or-no signals that her neurons demand. Then her neurons send instructions to her finger muscles that result in the shorthand scratchings.
There is no reason, say the computermen, why a machine cannot do the same thing. It would need an attachment to turn spoken words into trains of binary numbers. Then the numbers would be turned into typed words. They would not necessarily be spelled phonetically. The machine could decide by reference to memory, just as a flesh & blood stenographer does, how each group of sounds ought to be spelled. Other "memories" would tell it how to clean up the boss's grammar.
Chess Player. Dr. Claude E. Shannon of Bell Telephone Laboratories is figuring out how to make a calculator that can play chess. He thinks that one could play well enough to beat all except the greatest chess masters. Machines are also capable, he thinks, of orchestrating a melody and of making simple logical deductions.
Computing machines are very expensive at present; Mark III cost $500,000. But they are becoming simpler, as well as more intelligent, and their cost can be cut enormously by commercial production methods. It is almost certain that they will come into wide use eventually. On Professor Aiken's desk are sheaves of letters from corporations eager to learn about the computers' potentialities.
Nearly all the computermen are worried about the effect the machines will have on society...
Psychotic Robots. In the larger, "biological" sense, there is room for nervous speculation. Some philosophical worriers suggest that the computers, growing superhumanly intelligent in more & more ways, will develop wills, desires and unpleasant foibles of their own, as did the famous robots in Capek's R.U.R....
According to McCulloch, human brains have been decreasing in size since the time (20,000 years ago) of Cro-Magnon man. McCulloch suggests sardonically that this may be nature's reaction to the fact that as man's society becomes more elaborate, individual men find less need for their brains.
Ruler or Tool? Perhaps the computing machines, by lifting more of the thinking burden, will prove a last step... Men may come to specialize on the simple, narrow tasks of serving the machines. Men's brains may grow smaller & smaller as the machines' brains grow larger. Will the time come at last when the machines rule--perhaps without seeming to rule...?
To all such chilling speculation, the young engineers in Professor Aiken's laboratory have a breezy answer: "When a machine is acting badly, we consider it a responsible person, and blame it for its stupidity. When it's doing fine, we say it is a tool that we clever humans built."
* From the Greek word meaning steersman.
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