6.868J | Fall 2011 | Graduate

The Society of Mind


Course Meeting Times

Lecture: 1 session / week, 2.5 hours / session

About This Course

The subject of this course is to discuss theories about how minds work. We will emphasize aspects of thinking that are so poorly understood that they are still considered to be more philosophical than scientific. Our goal is to replace ill-defined folk theories of ‘consciousness’, ‘self’ and ’emotion’ with more concrete computational concepts.

This course centers around two books, Society of Mind and The Emotion Machine. The full text of The Emotion Machine is also available on Prof. Minsky’s homepage. There are no course prerequisites for 6.868. However, you are expected to have read Society of Mind in advance.

Expectations (Yours and Ours)

This class takes the form of an interactive seminar, in which you will be able to actively discuss and debate ideas. We expect that you will be thoughtful, inquisitive, and prepared.

  • You should come to every class prepared to ask a clear and important question. This class presents a real opportunity to figure out hard problems about consciousness, intelligence, selfhood, and human nature—among others. To be successful, you need only study the material carefully and critically outside of class.
  • You should read Society of Mind. Because this class immediately builds upon the ideas presented in the book, you will benefit the most if you have carefully read it ahead of time.

Now about your expectations:

  • Lectures. The lectures will be extemporaneous. At the start of class, you’ll raise questions, criticisms, and suggestions about the material, or about your own theories, which will then guide the course of Prof. Minsky’s talks.
  • Final project. The culmination of your work in the course will be an open-ended final project in which you’ll apply your understanding of the ideas in class. This project can take several different forms, depending on your individual interests. More details about the final project will be released throughout the semester.
  • Succeeding in 6.868. Your success in this in this course will be determined by your preparation and participation in class discussion, and by your ability to understand and employ the main ideas of the class. We measure your participation through your involvement in the lectures and in the student-led discussion, as well as through brief written assignments which we may collect from time to time. We measure your ability to understand and employ the main ideas of the class through your final project.


All sessions include Q/A and discussion components. There are four lectures devoted entirely to Q/A.

1 Introduction  
2 Falling in Love  
3 Cognitive Architectures Homework 1 due
4 Question and Answer Session 1  
5 From Panic to Suffering  
6 Layers of Mental Activities Homework 2 due
7 Layered Knowledge Representations  
8 Question and Answer Session 2  
9 Common Sense  
10 Question and Answer Session 3 Final project proposal due
11 Mind vs. Brain: Confessions of a Defector, by David Dalrymple Homework 3 due (optional)
12 Question and Answer Session 4  
13 Closing Thoughts  Final project due

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2011
Learning Resource Types
Lecture Videos
Written Assignments