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Is the Human Mind a Turing Machine? An Alternative View of Mind from Abhidhamma

Enrique F. Bocardo


According to Kurt Gödel[1], the argument that the human mind is a Turing Machine (TM) rests on two assumptions: (A) There is no mind separate from matter; and (B) The brain works essentially like a digital computer. The aim of my paper is to challenge assumption (A) by providing an alternative view of human mind, as has been conceived in the Abhidhamma. In particular, I should like to argue that: (i) The meaning of lexical items are not recursively determined, as they are conditioned by feelings; and (ii) The number of cittas and cetasikas involved in performing cognitive functions may likely exceed the number of nerve cells in the observable operations of the mind.

The evidence to support assumption (A) is provided by the prevalent conception of mind as a TM. It is not my contention to argue whether that view might be regarded, as Gödel remarked, “a prejudice of our time”. I shall confine myself only to show that the conception of mind purported in the Abhidhamma may capture some salient features of human mind, and, in particular, the notion of state of mind, that there are otherwise missing when the mind is conceived as a TM. More specifically, the Abhidhamma may ultimately furnish additional evidence in supporting three further Gödel’s claims that seem to strongly challenge assumption (A), namely: “(a) mind’s constant development in contrast with the predetermined character of a computer; (b) the possible convergence to infinity of the states of mind, in contrast with the finiteness of the state of every computer; and (c) the possibility that there non-mechanical mental procedures”[2].

[1] Wang 1974, 326.

[2] Wang 1996, 202.

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ISSN: 2153-8212