Course of Human Sciences

Professor SHIBATA Masayoshi (Philosophy and Anthropology)

[Theme] What Sort of Natural Phenomena is the Mind?

1. Research objectives and background

If I describe our research in the form of a traditional philosophical issue, it would be the investigation of the "mind-body problems." However, research of the human mind is actually now a seasonal thing conducted through the mutual cooperation of modern sciences such as artificial intelligence, cognitive sciences, and neuroscience. Only now we have commenced upon a new era of mental sciences and truly begun to explore the mind. We have changed these old "mind-body problems" into a new field of scientific inquiry in what can briefly be described as a thorough naturalization that attempts to interpret the mind as just another part of the physical universe (i.e., the result of neural activity).

2. Crossover between Mental Sciences and Philosophy

Not having had enough of just reading works on cognitive science and philosophy, we now enlist the help of artificial intelligence researchers and robotics engineers to conduct experiments in artificially recreating the functions of emotion and meaning comprehension. For the past few years, we have steadily received scientific research funding and created neural networks capable of simulating the feeling of "sympathy." A neural network is a new form of artificial intelligence that differs from the concept of traditional computers. Instead of the old coding system that follows a specific set of rules, a neural network makes calculations using a multitude of small nodes that form parallel stimulation patterns. We are currently one step short of attempting to deploy robots equipped with neural networks into real environments.

3. Facing the Greatest Mystery in the Universe

Regrettably, the mind does not have only cognitive functions. The most difficult question is how a physical mass such as the brain creates sensations (qualia) and consciousness. Let us imagine for a moment a universe that, while physically identical to our own, does not contain any consciousness or qualia. One would think that this sort of "zombie universe" would be free from all forms of physical adversity. This being the case, why do consciousness and qualia exist alongside physical phenomena in our universe?

The ultimate goal of our research is to find some sort of plausible answer to this conundrum, which is the universe's greatest mystery. One small step in this challenge can be found within the pages of my humble work "Robotto no Kokoro" (Minds in Robots) (2001, Kodansha Gendai Shinsho).

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