Software being mind, Hardware being body

Finally software provides the conscious to the machine

Is there any better way to explain 12 years old kid?

  • 2
    Not really. Software isn't mind, it is materially recorded on the hard drive, and computers do not have a mind in the sense of mind-body problem. If you want some computer analogies the metaphorical talk of computer "acting up" when returning an error, being "unhappy" about an input, "thinking" when running a program, etc., if taken literally, would be more to the point. This may also help illustrate the idea that "mind" might be an "illusion" even when applied to humans, just an abstraction for certain behaviors. Or, that humans might have something extra that computers lack.
    – Conifold
    Apr 5, 2021 at 5:59
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    @Conifold you don't think your mind is "materially recorded" in your brain?
    – Ryan_L
    Apr 5, 2021 at 15:56
  • @Ryan_L No. On physicalism it is represented by dynamical neural activity rather than some kind of static record.
    – Conifold
    Apr 5, 2021 at 17:44
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    @Ryan_L Must be influenced, not necessarily determined. The setup of a double slit experiment influences its outcome, but does not determine it, for example. But even if they were determined, initial conditions that determine an evolution are distinct from the evolution itself, just like running a software is distinct from the software itself.
    – Conifold
    Apr 6, 2021 at 5:33
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    @Ryan_L RAM, cache, and data registers are things that undergo changes, not the changes themselves, which take place over time and are abstracted into "mind". " Your brain and mind are the same" is only a shorthand, just like "statue and its shape are the same", it leads to incoherence if taken literally. Mind supervenes on the brain, but they are two different categories, even in physicalism.
    – Conifold
    Apr 6, 2021 at 17:51

3 Answers 3


You computer software may be used to metaphorically illustrate modern philosopher and cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett's intentional stance which is the 3rd higher-level abstraction of our brain (ie, conscious mind) for his philosophy of mind theory with intentionalism built-in. The general notion of a three level system was widespread in the late 1970s/early 1980s. Below is from the referenced wikipedia page:

Dennett defines three levels of abstraction, attained by adopting one of three entirely different "stances", or intellectual strategies: the physical stance; the design stance; and the intentional stance:

The most concrete is the physical stance, the domain of physics and chemistry, which makes predictions from knowledge of the physical constitution of the system and the physical laws that govern its operation; and thus, given a particular set of physical laws and initial conditions, and a particular configuration, a specific future state is predicted (this could also be called the "structure stance"). At this level, we are concerned with such things as mass, energy, velocity, and chemical composition. When we predict where a ball is going to land based on its current trajectory, we are taking the physical stance...

Somewhat more abstract is the design stance, the domain of biology and engineering, which requires no knowledge of the physical constitution or the physical laws that govern a system's operation. Based on an implicit assumption that there is no malfunction in the system, predictions are made from knowledge of the purpose of the system's design (this could also be called the "teleological stance"). At this level, we are concerned with such things as purpose, function and design. When we predict that a bird will fly when it flaps its wings on the basis that wings are made for flying, we are taking the design stance...

Most abstract is the intentional stance, the domain of software and minds, which requires no knowledge of either structure or design, and "[clarifies] the logic of mentalistic explanations of behaviour, their predictive power, and their relation to other forms of explanation" (Bolton & Hill, 1996, p. 24). Predictions are made on the basis of explanations expressed in terms of meaningful mental states; and, given the task of predicting or explaining the behaviour of a specific agent (a person, animal, corporation, artifact, nation, etc.), it is implicitly assumed that the agent will always act on the basis of its beliefs and desires in order to get precisely what it wants (this could also be called the "folk psychology stance"). At this level, we are concerned with such things as belief, thinking and intent. When we predict that the bird will fly away because it knows the cat is coming and is afraid of getting eaten, we are taking the intentional stance. Another example would be when we predict that Mary will leave the theater and drive to the restaurant because she sees that the movie is over and is hungry.

So for some philosophers or cognitive scientists, your can rightly use software as an analogy for the functional higher layer of the brain which is just mind, if you interpret software as some intention or meaning generation mechanism.


I'm afraid that computers are much less magical then they appear to be. If it helps your case - computer can be made just from falling marbles https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8BOvLL8ok8I&t=368s No modern computer can actually do more than the "marble computer" in the video above.

I think that for any philosophical thought it's good to thing about computers and their abilities as Turing machines https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_machine

The machine operates on an infinite[4] memory tape divided into discrete "cells".[5] The machine positions its "head" over a cell and "reads" or "scans"[6] the symbol there. Then, as per the symbol and the machine's own present state in a "finite table"[7] of user-specified instructions, the machine (i) writes a symbol (e.g., a digit or a letter from a finite alphabet) in the cell (some models allow symbol erasure or no writing),[8] then (ii) either moves the tape one cell left or right (some models allow no motion, some models move the head),[9] then (iii) (as determined by the observed symbol and the machine's own state in the table) either proceeds to a subsequent instruction or halts the computation.[10]

So your question can be rephrased as: "Am I a clever typewriter?" And I do not feel as one. To your question: I think it is not a good analogy and in some sense it may be a very bad one. For example: Are all my emotions just clever calculations which cannot be differentiated from any other "process"?

  • On the other hand, there is a good basis in modern physics to think the behavior of any physical system, from a person to the whole solar system, can in principle be simulated on a Turing machine with sufficient memory: web.archive.org/web/20180721014039/https://…
    – Hypnosifl
    May 21, 2021 at 20:34

I found something what i am looking for


Recent research from cognitive psychologists has placed a new emphasis on this debate. They have taken the computer analogy of Artificial Intelligence and applied it to this debate. They argue that the brain can be compared to computer hardware that is "wired" or connected to the human body.

The mind is therefore like software, allowing a variety of different software programs: to run. This can account for the different reactions people have to the same stimulus. This idea ties in with cognitive mediational (thinking) processes. In computer analogies we have a new version of dualism which allows us to incorporate modern terms such as computers and software instead of Descartes "I think therefore I am"

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