Aaron Sloman: ESSLLI Talk, Thurs 10th Aug 2000

Invited talk at


Title: What kind of virtual machine could be a mind?

Speaker: Aaron Sloman

School of Computer Science, The University if Birmingham

Date: Thursday 10th Aug


The relation between mind and brain has often been compared with the relation between software processes and the hardware engines within which they run. The software processes are often described as occurring in a virtual machine, implemented in a physical machine. This relation is intuitively understood by software engineers, computer scientists and many computer users, though it is extremely difficult to describe precisely. Labels such as `supervenience', `implementation', `realisation', `support' have all been used.

The word `virtual' can mislead some people into thinking a virtual machine is not a real machine. Virtual machines in computers are as real as poverty, economic inflation, and other abstract processes that impact on our lives, and they also have causal powers.

This talk will take the ontological status and causal powers of processes in virtual machines for granted and instead address a different question: which sorts of virtual machines are needed for which sorts of minds?

At present we understand only a tiny subset of the space of possible virtual machine architectures. However it is clear that different architectures are required for that minds of different sorts (e.g. adult human minds, infant human minds, chimpanzee minds, rat minds, bat minds, flea minds....). This talk will attempt to place the study of human mental architectures in the broader context of the space of possible minds.

I hope to show that such a study is facilitated by thinking of overt human language as a special case of a more general notion of language, which includes many uses that have nothing to do with interpersonal communication: e.g. thinking, remembering, wondering, desiring, deciding, learning.

Last updated: 18 Jul 2000