Hubert Lederer Dreyfus and Herbert Paul Grice, Philosophers of the Limits of ComputersHubert L. Dreyfus is a philosopher whose essay “What Computers Can Not Do” made him a scourge and eventually an inspiration to researchers in artificial intelligence,
Dreyfus's home, like Grice's, is in Berkeley, Calif.
Dreyfus became interested in so-called "artificial intelligence" when he began teaching at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, of all places!
Dreyfus often brushed shoulders with scientists trying to turn computers into reasoning machines.
"They said 'they' could programme computers to be intelligent like people," he recalls in an interview with the Full-Tilt Boogie.
"They came to me and said, more or less:
'We do not need Plato and Kant and Descartes anymore.'
'That was all just talk.'
'We are empirical.'
'We are going to actually do it.’”
"I really wanted to know, could they do it?". Dreyfus explains this in terms of what Grice calls 'material implications':
"If they can do it, it is very important."
"If they can NOT do it, human beings are different than machines, and that is very important.”
After spending time at the RAND Corporation, Dreyfus published “Alchemy and Artificial Intelligence," a slashing attack on the work of Allan Newell and Herbert A. Simon, two of RAND’s leading "artificial-intelligence" researchers, and followed with the equally provocative “What Computers Can Not Do: A Critique of Artificial Reason.”
Dreyfus argues that the dream of so-called "artificial intelligence" rests on several flawed assumptions, chief among them the idea that the brain is analogous to computer hardware and the mind to computer software.
Oddly, this is the view often associated with H. P. Grice in his "Method in philosophical psychology: from the banal to the bizarre," which mainly draws on D. K. Lewis's 'functionalism' and has been made popular by discussions by Ned Block. Vide also the introduction to "P. G. R. I. C. E.", Philosophical Grounds of Rationality: Intentions, Categories, Ends.
In Dreyfus's view, human beings (Homo sapiens) develop an accurate picture of the world by adding bits of information and re-arranging them in a procedure that follows predictable "rules." (This was before Dreyfus heard Grice's demolishing Searle's distinction between regulative and constitutive rules -- which Searle had borrowed from elsewhere!)
Dreyfus, an adherent of the French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty and the German philosopher Martin Heidegger (he had written seminal introductory works on both men), posited a different view of human beings and their interactions with the world around them.
It may well be because of Dreyfus that Grice once said, "Heidegger is the greatest living philosopher". Or not! (One might argue: "Grice does NOT seem to be implicating that Merleau-Ponty isn't. And this is odd.")
There was no objective set of facts outside the human mind, Dreyfus insists.
Human beings experience learning as a partly physical interaction with their surroundings, and interpret the world, in a process of continual revision, through a socially determined filtre.
Inevitably, Dreyfus says, so-called "artificial intelligence" runs up against something called the "common-knowledge problem" (and that Grice would say is represented in the fruits of 'linguistic botanising'): the vast repository of facts and information that ordinary people possess as though by inheritance, and can draw on to make inferences and navigate their way through the world.
"Current claims and hopes for progress in models for making computers "intelligent" are," in words reminiscent of A. M. Turing, "like the belief that someone climbing a tree is making progress toward reaching the moon,” Dreyfus observes in “Mind Over Machine: The Power of Human Intuition and Expertise in the Era of the Computer," an essay he collaborated on with Stuart Dreyfus (relation: his brother) (Don't you hate the expression "no relation" -- surely there is always a relation. I challenge you to mention two items x and y which have "no relation").
Oddly, Grice also had a brother but they never collaborated other than in music! (Grice played the piano to Derek's cello!) -- but they sounded best when their father ("a dreadful businessman but a fine musician") joined him with the violin.
Dreyfus's criticisms were greeted with intense hostility in the world of "artificial intelligence" researchers, who remain confident that success lies within reach as computers grow more powerful.
When that allegedly did not happen, Dreyfus found himself vindicated, doubly so when research in the field began incorporating his arguments! and more so when they were expanded upon in a second edition of “What Computers Can Not Do” and “What Computers *Still* Can not Do." ("I love the implicatures of 'still'," Grice commented).
Hubert Lederer Dreyfus was born in Terre Haute, Indiana.
His father, Stanley, was in the wholesale poultry business, and his mother, Irene Lederer, was a homemaker.
Oddly, if Grice had adopted his mother's maiden name as middle name he would be Herbert Felton Grice!
At Wiley, the debate coach encouraged Dreyfus to apply to Harvard, which Dreyfus (not the coach) thought was in England, because of the Cambridge address!
This, Grice later noted, was possibly the coach's fault, who, violating one of Grice's maxims ("be as informative as you should") should have encouraged Dreyfus to apply to JOHN Harvard's Uni! ("By the Charles, if you mustn't").
Despite the coach's disimplicatures, Dreyfus was more interested in a different Cambridge institution that he (Dreyfus, not his coach) thought might sharpen his talent for making home-made explosives and setting them off by remote control.
"I want to go to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology because I figure they will me make better bombs,” Dreyfus told his father Stanley.
In the end, however (perhaps ultimately influenced by the coach -- or not) Dreyfus opted for John Harvard's Uni by the Charles (where Grice gave the seminal "Logic and Conversation" William James Lectures), where Dreyfus studied physics initially and oddly, but switched majors after hearing a lecture by the philosopher C. I. Lewis -- that Grice admired! "The lecture was very interesting," Dreyfus later recalled.
Grice discusses Lewis in the fourth "Logic and Conversation" lecture as he considers Strawson's "if" versus the strict conditional that Lewis popularized. Oddly, D. K. Lewis (no relation to C. I. Lewis) was in attendance at Grice's lecture.
Dreyfus received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, writing a thesis on causality in quantum mechanics ("very complex," Lewis thought -- that's C. I. Lewis, not D. K. Lewis -- who never read it -- i.e. Dreyfus's essay -- and a master’s degree.
This is a bit like Grice in Oxford only different (Grice, MA Oxon).
Before completing his doctorate in 1964, with a dissertation on Edmund Husserl — a philosopher he later dismissed as "boring," meaning/implicating "to me"— Dreyfus spent fellowships in Freiburg, Germany; Louvain, Belgium; and the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, absorbing the latest developments in Continental philosophy, and a lot of coffee. (As Grice notes, "the implicatures of "normale supérieure" are that there is an "abnormal inferior," too -- Paris is very big." Vide the annals of the G. R. I. C. E., Groupe pour la reserche de la inference et la comprehension elementaire).
After returning to the New World, Dreyfus taught at Brandeis (where Grice lectured) and M.I.T. and translated, with Patricia Allen, Merleau-Ponty’s "Sense and Non-Sense.".
Like Grice, Dreyfus joined the philosophy department at Berkeley in the very same year.
Dreyfus's marriage ended in divorce.
Dreyfus, if you need to know, remarried. He married Geneviève Boissier.
Dreyfus and Boissier have two very bright children, Stéphane and Gabrielle.
Dreyfus goes on to play a major role in explaining Continental thought in works like “Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics," written with Paul Rabinow, and "Being-in-the-World: A Commentary on Heidegger’s ‘Being and Time, Division I’." (A book, "Being and Time," Grice was slightly interested in, having read Gilbert Ryle's review in "Mind" -- and also because he thought Heidegger was the greatest living philosopher).
Dreyfus co-wrote stuff with H. P. Grice mainly on David Hume's vagaries of personal identity.
With Mark Wrathall, of Riverside, California, Dreyfus edited numerous guides devoted to existentialism, phenomenology and Heidegger’s philosophy.
"It is no exaggeration to say that, insofar as some philosophers have any access at all to thinkers like Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty and Michel Foucault, it is through the interpretation that Dreyfus originally offers of them," notes Sean D. Kelly, of Harvard.
In later years, Dreyfus turned his attention to new subjects.
With Kelly, he wrote a surprise best-seller on literature, “All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age."
In “Skillful Coping: Essays on the Every-Day Phenomenology of Everyday Perception and Action," an essay collection edited by Wrathall, Dreyfus employs the insights of phenomenology to explore non-reflexive action and ethics.
For his essay “Philosophy: The Latest Answers to the Oldest Questions,” Nicholas Fearn broached the topic of artificial intelligence in an interview with Dreyfus, who told him: “I don’t think about computers anymore. I figure I won and it’s over: They’ve given up.”
On the other hand, Grice would complain that his computing spell check would not recognize 'sticky wicket' and 'pirot' (as in Carnap, "Pirots karulise elatically").
The Grice/Dreyfus essay on Hume's vagaries of personal identity is, as it should, a gem!