Descartes Vs. Turing: What Makes A Person?
Politics and Activism

Descartes Vs. Turing: What Makes A Person?

Dualism is the common belief system when asking, "What makes a person?" But is it efficient in answering that question?

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Can a person be a solely physical thing? In other words could everything that exists within you and makes you special also exist in a computer and make it special? This question has been pondered throughout time by both dualists and materialists alike. While the majority of people in the scientific world believe in materialism, the majority of those in the public world believe in dualism. This is credited to the fact that the majority of religions describe a non-physical soul as a part of us, and the majority of people in the public believe in some sort of dualist religion. Descartes, a dualist, and Alan Turing, a materialist, are two great examples for arguments on either side of this “can a person be purely physical?” debate.

The argument kicks off with Descartes, our dualist, outlining what he believes it takes to be a person, and why he believes nothing purely physical could do these things. First we have mathematical reasoning; Descartes believed in his time that there was no way that a purely physical thing could do math. Of course, computers can do math as calculators are now a thing that can do large mathematical calculations even better than a human. The second thing that Descartes outlined was language composition. Descartes believed that no purely physical thing could understand language. Now, while this could be a plausible point to most people, because we do not see computers directly talking to each other. It is true that computers have a simple form of language that can be used to allow them to communicate with each other. The third thing that Descartes said a purely physical thing could not do was become self aware. While no purely physical machine we have created is actually self aware, Turing did have an argument for this requirement. Turing argued that if an artificial intelligence was able to pass his test then it would have to be self-aware, and therefore would be deserving of personhood. Finally, Descartes believed that we could not have a person without emotion or feeling. This requirement is challenged by Turing when he brings it to humans. Turing argues that we can not actually prove that any other human can feel because we can not be another person. This means that if we can not prove it in ourselves, then an artificial intelligence should not have to prove it. Based on the arguments provided by the two, I would have to say that Turing is the clear winner as far as Descartes arguments go.

In the end I would agree with Turing, and therefore would say that I am more of a materialist than a dualist. Turing used scientific research to decide what was needed to make a person, and from there he devised a test that could prove that an artificial intelligence that had these traits. Descartes on the other hand used his lack of knowledge on how certain cognitive processes worked in order to decide what was necessary for personhood. Descartes then used religion, which stands unproven in itself, to develop an idea of a non-physical soul that runs these processes. I do not believe that either Descartes or Turing have the answer to the question on whether a person can be purely physical simply because neither has foolproof evidence. However, Turing does give a basis on which his argument would be proven, which is something Descartes does not do. So, from that and Turing's ability to refute a few of Descartes ideas, I believe that Turing has the better argument and overall gives a more scientific spin on it all. I believe that a person can be a purely physical thing if it passes the Turing test, and that when the day comes that an artificial intelligence does pass the Turing test, then he will have officially won this argument.

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