Reviews and Readers' Comments


Mapping Great Debates: Can Computers Think?


Stephen Toulmin (Right) discusses argumentation mapping with
Bob Horn, the director of the Mapping Great Debates project.

Stephen Toulmin's Comments
"When I published The Uses of Argument in the late 1950s, it had a limited purpose: to drive a wedge between deductive systems of logic and the substantive reasoning we use in our everyday life and affairs. Philosophers (I hoped, largely in vain) would then be free to discuss epistemological issues without being distracted by the puzzles arising from the Cartesian ideal of 'geometrical' knowledge. A further invention was needed in order to show the value of my claim. Robert Horn's explorations into the visual display of information put flesh on Ludwig Wittgenstein's account of factual language as an instrument for 'representing' states of affairs; and his novel device of 'argumentation mapping' is a fresh and powerful step forward in the display of information, and the analysis of the complex issues that face us at the end of the 20th century.

His method of argumentation analysis is a valuable tool, not merely for philosophy teachers, but also in setting out and appraising the networks of claims involved in major public debates today: whether these are about (say) the elimination of nuclear weapons, the strengths and weaknesses of 'market' economies, the control of drugs and other hazardous substances, or many more.

"It is gratifying to think that my modest step forty years ago was one starting point for such a striking and powerful innovation. Robert Horn's first, carefully worked out presentation of the issue of 'machine intelligence' is a model deserving to be followed by a dozen others. It deserves every success."

--STEPHEN TOULMIN, Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities emeritus, Northwestern University, author of Cosmopolis, Wittgenstein's Vienna, The Uses of Casuistry, An Introduction to Reasoning, The Uses of Argument, The Architecture of Matter, The Discovery of Time, and The Place of Reason in Ethics.\

"I am truly enthusiastic about this project"

Let me confess right at the outset that I am truly enthusiastic about this project: It could constitute the beginning of a new phase in academic teaching. I will use this in my own teaching of philosophy of mind as soon as I have a chance, and I definitely look forward to the experience.... all in all, what we are here witnessing are the first fruits of an exciting and promising project. It deserves all the support it can get... Let's face it: the debate on whether machines could think, in the five decades which have passed since the publication of Turing's paper, has gained so much in terms of substance and internal complexity that even for experts in the field it is hard to negotiate the jungle of arguments and counterarguments. We urgently needed something like this.<o:p></o:p></span></p> ...Human beings are visual
creatures and evolution has invested much more neurocomputational resources in our conscious visual model of reality than it has in our recent ability to internally simulate quasi-syntactic operations with discrete symbol-tokens. We are experts at grasping visual environments in a fraction of a second, whereas we are clumsy thinkers, who take much longer to reconstruct logical environments mentally. It is important, then, to supplement learning procedures and the building of a descriptive memory with some additional eye-food. The argumentation maps supplied by Robert Horn and his team do precisely that -- while not ignoring the intellectual content they are transporting. They
facilitate the activation and storage of mental models of complex propositional structures in students' brains (this is one way of describing what academic teaching has to achieve in theoretical disciplines like philosophy) by embedding them into perceptual mental models (this is one way of describing what Horn's mapping approach tries to do). In doing so they make use of a visual language, with has its own set of rules, but is more flexible and allows for the quicker grasping of coarse-grained context.

--THOMAS METZINGER, review in Psyche, online journal of consciousness,???? <> Metzinger is in the Department of Philosophy, Universitry of Essen

"show the edge of knowledge--a feat that is impossible by other means"

But most exciting of all, visual language is a tool for mapping ideas. Horn and others have used it to map out complex manufacturing projects, to chart political arguments and to navigate the treacherous waters of scientific and philosophical debates. Their charts allow the viewer to quickly grasp the main points of a debate and its current status. They even show the edge of knowledge--a feat that is impossible by other means....As an example of argumentation mapping, Horn and his colleagues have tackled one of the thorniest questions in the field of artificial intelligence: can computers think ...One of the big advantages of such an overview is that it allows people to see a complex
subject in context and focus on whatever bit might be of interest at the time.

--BOB HOLMES, review in New Scientist <<>


"avoids repetitive, nitpicking, or unnecessarily technical discussions"

Robert Horn's "Can Computers Think?" is a set of visual maps to a critical debate in the field of artificial intelligence. Horn's approach to visual argumentation is to flatten this complex, n-dimensional debate into 7 large, paper fold-out maps, each of which focuses assertions, refutations, and references on a key theme in the debate. The themes include: an introduction to the "Can Computers Think?" debate, the Turing test, physical symbol systems, Chinese Rooms, connectionist networks and images, consciousness and thinking, and the mathematical possibility of thinking computers. Horn and his research staff have done an admirable job in clarifying the technical and philosophical issues without taking sides or doing violence to the underlying complexity. Horn's explicit debate- mapping methodology uses published historical arguments and experimental results, but avoids repetitive, nitpicking, or unnecessarily technical discussions. Everyday use of visual argumentation in fold-out map or electronic web form could improve the quality of discussions by increasing people's ability to deal cogently and referentially with complex, nonlinear issues. These particular maps are useful tools for computer science instructors and practitioners that find themselves having to explain the long term implications of AI to students or a lay audience. An interesting and important feature of the "Can Computers Think?" debate is that it carries on the great scientific tradition of decentralizing humans from their former position as the centerpiece of all creation.

--NEIL JACOBSTEIN, President & Chief Operating Officer, Teknowledge Corporation,Palo Alto, California 94303,

"useful for both teaching and research"

"The Horn maps of the complex, detailed debate about whether computers can think provide a terrific graphic overview of the intellectual exchanges on the subject as well as a comprehensive set of specific references for further investigation. This novel approach to presenting philosophical positions and counterpositions is useful for both teaching and research."

--JAMES MOOR, Professor, Philosophy Department, Dartmouth College

"outstandingly clear and well-organized"

"I am writing in appreciation of the series of maps, "Mapping Great Debates: Can Computers Think?" that I recently purchased for use in my Philosophy of Mind course. I have installed some on the walls of my office, and find that students have consulted them for help in answering questions, thinking about the debates, and understanding fundamental views of the key philosophers in the areas. They are outstandingly clear and well-organized, characteristics both my students and I appreciate and which make them outstandingly useful, as well.
The maps have, in fact, prompted me to reorganize my Philosophy of Mind course to cover certain issues and problems from a particular approach, using the commentaries of thinkers noted on the maps--e.g. the Chinese Room in more depth, and connected more explicitly to the question "Can Computers Think?" I am sure that they will continue to be an invaluable resource for my students, as well as generating new ways of thinking about the major issues in Philosophy of Mind and Artificial Intelligence. I am delighted to have them."

--ELLEN WAGNER, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, University of North Florida

"Bob Horn is the new Mercator, a pioneering navigator of knowledge."

"Bob Horn is the new Mercator, a pioneering navigator of knowledge. His argumentation maps open a whole new way of looking at information, from a contextual rather than a linear perspective. Bob has pulled off a neat trick: all at once, I can see the intellectual history of an idea and where the debate stands now."

--ROBERT JACOBSON, Editor, Information Design, MIT Press, 1999


"leaves no room for mush ... honesty of the editing comes through"

I also like the idea because of the discipline it forces on the editors. Each box has to present an argument in a few words and each has to be linked into a network of argument ramifying forward, backward, and sideways. This leaves no room for mush; the steps have to be exact - more like the lines in a computer program than the discursive form of ordinary text. Some people use the flexibility of ordinary text as a way of avoiding the necessity of working out exactly what they want to say; that sort of thing can't pass muster here.

The honesty of the editing comes through in the project's very refusal to stick to the usual diet of the great and the good. One must also appreciate the sheer amount of work that has gone into the preparation.

--HARRY COLLINS, review in the journal Nature. Collins is Professor at the Centre for the Study of Knowledge Expertise and Science, Cardiff University


"a bold new method for helping students"

"Bob Horn has tackled the Gordian knot of argumentation, which exhibits years of accumulated tangle on the question of whether computers can think. He has provided a bold new method for helping students unravel the complex ideas and their interrelationships, through visual organization and large-scale simultaneous presentation. The result is impressive and presages many future efforts, in which high-density visual presentation, both in print and on computer-driven displays, will be used to effectively augment human intelligence."

--TERRY WINOGRAD, Professor, Stanford University. Program on People, Computers, and Design, Department of Computer Science

"you need a map"

"Robert Horn thinks a lot about the nature of narrative. Traditional stories can be told from beginning to end and written down in books. But more complex stories (or concepts, or arguments) spaghetti into branches, side streams, dead ends, and braided channels. For these ... you need a map."

--CHERI BROOKS, review in Mercator's World, January/February 2000

"ambitious, interdisciplinary, and altogether singular"

"The result of Horn's effort is the ambitious, interdisciplinary, and altogether singular Mapping Great Debates Series... Stephen Toulmin ... a former student of Ludwig Wittgenstein's, believed philosopher's were mistaken in the hope that knowledge and argumentation could be formalized in the manner of Euclidean geometry. Rather, Toulmin stressed that the reasoning we use in everyday life works by example and counterexample, by questioning the grounds of a claim and offering rebuttals, by referring to other arguments and modifying claims. If only philosophers could make this sort of real-world procedure explicit, Toulmin hoped, they "would then be free to discuss epistemilogical issues without being distracted by the puzzles arising from the Cartesian ideal of 'geometrical' knowledge." That is, the question "Can computers think?" will be answered not be appealing to formal logical rules but, as Toulmin notes with approval of Horn's maps, by setting out and appraising the networks of claims... Peter Suber, a philosopher at Earlhan College, has already used Horn's maps to supplement his course on the philosophy of artificial intelligence and has nominated them for an award given jointly by the American Philosophical Association and the Philosophy Documentation Center for curricular innovation in philosophy. Suber concedes that " the idea of mapping philosophical debates may be as old as doodles in student notebooks with arrows connecting one claim to another. But I've never seen one in print, let alone a systemative attempt to map all the significant positions in a significant branch of philosophy."

--JAMES RYERSON, review in "Inside Publishing: Metaphysician, Map Thyself," Lingua Franca, Fall 1999


"might just change the way you do philosophy"

"Pull down that ubiquitous grainy Wittgenstein portrait. Rip that naff old conference poster from the wall. Here's something to decorate your room that might just change the way you do philosophy... Like all the best ideas, it is quite obvious. You are an explorer, and investigator. The terrain you're intending to cover has been thoroughly plotted by many before you. It is divided into many different fields and areas, each one a tangled web of routes, paths and cul-de-sacs. You need not only to be able to find your way around each distinct area, but also to see how the whole region fits together. What you need, obviously, is a map."

--JOSEPH CHANDLER, review in The Philosophers' Magazine, Summer 1999

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