René Descartes

René Descartes

1673

French philosopher-mathematician René Descartes wrote, in Discourse on the Method, automata can’t respond to things the way a human can. This concept of what humans have the machines lack would serve the basis for the Turing test. As he studied physics and theology, he believed the mind and body are separate.

While the 17th-century automata set the stage in France, Descartes theorizied how the mind related to the body. In Meditations on First Philosophy, he showed the existence of God and that humans are a union of mind and body. The dualism meant the mind and body are distinct but related. He described ways in which substances exist in Principles of Philosophy, “we can clearly perceive a substance apart from the mode which we say differs from it, whereas we cannot, conversely, understand the mode apart from the substance”. Intellectual theorizing lets us differentaite between them. Descartes explained:

The intellectual abstraction consists in my turning my thought away from one part of the contents of this richer idea the better to apply it to the other part with greater attention. Thus, when I consider a shape without thinking of the substance or the extension whose shape it is, I make a mental abstraction.

Distinct substances exist as different from one another, so God is distinct from humans, and mind is distinct from body. The mind, though, is indivisible: because “when I consider the mind, or myself in so far as I am merely a thinking thing, I am unable to distinguish any part within myself; I understand myself to be something quite single and complete.” His theories would influence Western philosophies and ideas of machine minds distinct from their bodies.
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