Introduction to ProtoThinker

John Barker: Designer, Programmer & Author

What is ProtoThinker?

"I am therefore, precisely speaking, only a thinking thing, that is, a mind..." [René Descartes, Meditation II]

"If you want to know what intelligence is, or what it takes to have a thought, you need a recipe for creating intelligence or assembling a thought (or a thinker of thoughts) out of parts you already understand." [Fred Dretske, "If You Can't Make One, You Don't Know How It Works"]

Computers are machines that thinkers have constructed out of parts they understand. Someday, perhaps, computer technology may enable thinkers to create other thinking things and understand precisely how they work. Meanwhile, computer modeling can help us construct simulated cognitive agents that illuminate the workings of minds. ProtoThinker is one such computational model of the mind.

ProtoThinker: A Model of the Mind is a Windows software application that features a simple computer model of an extremely complex entity -- the human mind. ProtoThinker (PT) is a simulated person whose artificial mind facilitates exploration of questions about real minds. PT is designed to help you explore such questions as:

  • What is thinking? How can thoughts represent reality? Does our ability to think imply that our minds are immaterial entities somehow connected to our material bodies? Could robots equipped with "constructed minds" engage in genuine thinking?
  • What is reasoning? What principles guide logical thinking, rational problem solving and wise decision making? Can intelligent animals engage in rational deliberation?
  • What is language? Does the mind employ a language of thought? Can humans speak because they can think? Or can they think because they can speak?

Interacting with ProtoThinker

You can converse with PT on any subject. PT will translate statements, questions, and requests into Mentalese (a language-like symbol system), and form thoughts and memories, draw logical conclusions, and make rational decisions. Initially, PT's mind is a tabula rasa. PT has no opinions or knowledge on any subject and is eager to believe what you say and do what you ask. Like any rational agent, however, PT will be disinclined to accept statements that conflict with information acquired through reasoning, and reluctant to comply with requests judged to have harmful consequences.

Unlike human minds, PT's mind is visible! Watch as the sentences you enter are analyzed syntactically and semantically and give rise to Mentalese representations that reveal logical structures. Then activate the Mindmask to make conversations more realistic by hiding PT's mental processing. Experiment with modifications of PT's linguistic and reasoning abilities and with simulations of deception, free will, self-awareness, altruism, robotic embodiment, irrational values, illogical reasoning, "mindreading," "mindblindness," and multiple personality.

Creating Dynamic Essays

Conversations with PT can be "recorded" for future playback. When accompanied by commentary, these recordings become Dynamic Essays that employ PT's performance to illustrate discussion points. Built-in Dynamic Essays on a variety of issues will help you create your own. You can share your essays with other PT users, who can download PT from this website. While your recordings and essays play back, PT's responses will be re-created, demonstrating that your views merit careful consideration.

Playing Games

PT contains numerous games designed to enhance your thinking skills and help you learn the logical reasoning principles that enable PT to draw valid conclusions.

Download ProtoThinker

ProtoThinker only runs on Windows computers. There is no Mac version. Download ProtoThinker and other related programs here.