Donald C. Mikulecky, Professor of Physiology

Office: 3-012E Sanger Hall, East Campus, Office phone : 828-4500,



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FALL SEMESTER 2000: Tuesday and Thursday,  November 7 - December 7, 9:30-10:45, BUSNS 2122


                                                                        BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF MODULE:


We will examine the impact of these new technologies on our freedom of choice and our ability to control our own destiny.  We will have a detailed discussion of the man-machine interface in the age of neural network technology and artificial intelligence will also be discussed in detail.  An effort will be made to understand the capacity and limits of machine intelligence.  The impact of computers and telecommunications on all aspects of our lives will be examined.  The goal will be to arrive at some strategy for human and humane control over these influences in the coming century.


TEXT: Robert Rosen, Essays on Life Itself, Columbia University Press, 1999

Available in the VCU Bookstore

Other useful material on Dr. Mikulecky's WEBPAGE

Some Useful definitions (Appendices to syllabus)





Students will be asked to choose topics for a short (up to 10 double-spaced typewritten pages [it need not be typed]) paper due at the end of the course.  Class participation in discussions and the paper will be the main evaluation tools. Each will count 50%  One goal of the essay will be the integration of the course material into other aspects of the student's work.  Another will be to try to write as an integral member of the class as a group.  This may be significantly different from expectations in other courses, so please try to understand these guidelines.  A full 15% of the evaluation of the paper will be based on how well each paper is part of a composite whole.  This can be achieved in a number of ways.  One that I provide is to require each of you to write a proposal due on the third day of day class (Nov. 14, 2000)  that will be distributed to all your classmates.  The way to earn the credit for group participation is to heed the proposals and class discussions and write about them in your paper. [PLEASE MAKE ENOUGH COPIES OF YOUR PROPOSAL FOR EVERYONE IN THE CLASS.]  This is one class where collaboration and working together with one or more of your classmates will not only be recognized, but is required!  The remainder of the grade for your paper will be distributed as follows:


quality  25%

understanding of concepts in handouts and lecture/discussion 25%

organization 10%

use of references (This includes the internet and e-mail discussions) 15%








                Background:  Why is this a good subject? what makes it worth writing about?


                Goals: What do you hope to achieve in this paper?


                Methods: How do you expect to achieve these goals?





Session 1 (Nov. 7, 2000) Class Discussion on:


I. Introduction: Are machines capable of intelligence?- The artificial intelligence debate.

                A. The Turing machine, semantics vs. syntax, neural networks.

                B. The difficulty of defining intelligence.

                C. Does control require high intelligence?


II.  The impact of machine intelligence on our lives.

                A. Computer learning.

                B. "Word processing"

                C. Models and Simulation.

                D. Data banks.

                E. Hackers and security.

                F. The information explosion: e-mail, the WWW, etc.

                G. The disappearance of accountability and responsibility.


III. Can we anticipate the future?

                A. The increasing rate of change.  Will change become the constant?

                B.  Who will decide? Will anyone?

                C.  What role will threats to survival play?

                D. Has technology a life of its own?

                E. Where will AI/Neural Network technology go?

                F. Will a cybernetic "super intelligence" evolve?

                G. How can you have an impact?


Session 2  (Nov. 9, 2000) Class Discussion on the following section(s) of the text:



       Introduction to Part I : On Biology and Physics


Session 3  (Nov. 14, 2000) Class Discussion on the following section(s) of the text:


       Chapter 2: Biological Challenges to Contemporary Paradigms of Physics and Mimetics

Session 4  (Nov. 16, 2000) Class Discussion on the following section(s) of the text:


       Introduction to Part II: On Biology and the Mind


Session 5  (Nov. 21, 2000) Class Discussion on the following section(s) of the text:


       Chapter 4: The Church-Pythagoras Thesis


Session 6  (Nov. 23, 2000) Class Discussion on the following section(s) of the text:


       Chapter 5: Drawing the Boundary Between Subject and Object: Comments on the Mind Brain problem


Session 7  (Nov. 28, 2000) Class Discussion on the following section(s) of the text:


       Chapter 6: Mind as Phenotype


Session 8  (Nov. 30, 2000) Class Discussion on the following section(s) of the text:


       Chapter 7: On Psychomimesis


Session 9  (Dec. 5 , 2000) Class Discussion on the following section(s) of the text:


       Chapter 8: The Mind-Brain Problem and the Physics of Reductionism


Session 10  (Dec. 7, 2000) PAPERS DUE: Recapitulation and Course evaluation




This module is self-contained, but also the third in a series of related modules, all of which use Robert Rosen’s book as text .


1st module: "Vitalism old and new" Critiques the reductionist approach to science and society and attempts to establish an alternative. The field of biology is used as an example. 


2nd module: "New models of living systems" introduces the impact of Chaos and Fractal Geometry on the way we view living systems.  The failure of reductionism to survive these new findings presents an interesting juncture between eastern and western philosophy and foretells a revolution in science.  Some simple examples of fractals and chaotic dynamics are presented and the impact of such models on our interpretation  of mechanistic views of life is examined.




Can machines think?


A comparison of artificial and natural intelligence.


Expert systems in my field


The Turing test as a way of demonstrating machine intelligence


Gdel's Proof and the artificial intelligence debate


Computers and the changing nature of work


The use of computers and its effect on my field


Was cybernetics a prophesy?


Should "computational biology" be a part of the curriculum?


Is the "silicon life" discovered by Artificial Life researchers really a form of life?


The impact of artificial neural network technology on my field


A comparison of the "Information Revolution" with the Industrial Revolution


Individualism and the "Global Village"


Is morality an obsolete notion in a civilization undergoing a technological explosion?


Is there a relationship between the information explosion and the occurrence of scientific fraud?


Is there a difference between science and technology?


Is computer generated art and/or music really art and/or music?


This should give you some ideas.  It is not necessary to retain the exact wording of any of these; in particular, the interrogative construction. You are encouraged to develop your own topic, but check it with me.  This needs to be done quickly in order that you get your proposal to the class on time.





Bohm,D. (1980) Wholeness and the Implicate Order, Routledge, Kegan and Paul, London.


Broad, W. and N. Wade (1982) Betrayers of the Truth, Simon and Schuster, N. Y.


Casti, J.L. (1989) Paradigms lost: Images of man in the mirror of science, Wm. Morrow & Co., Inc.


Graubard, S. R. (Ed.) (1988) The Artificial Intelligence Debate, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.


Hofstader, D. R. and D. C. Dennnett (1981) The Mind's Eye: Fantasies and Reflections on Self and Soul, Bantam, NY.


Levins, R. and R. Lewontin (1985) The Dialectical Biologist, Harvard, Cambridge, MA


Levy, S. (1992) Artificial Life, Pantheon, NY.


Noble, H. B. (1988) The Coming Era in Science, Little Brown & Co., Boston.


Peacocke, A.R. (1985) Reductionism in Academic Disciplines, SRHE & NFER-Nelson, Surrey.


Peck, M. S. (1983) People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil, Simon and Shuster, N. Y. 0


Penrose, R. (1989) The Emperor's New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics, Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford, G.B.


Penrose, R. (1994) Shadows of the Mind: A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness, Oxford, NY.


Rose, S. (1997) Lifeline: Biology, Freedom, Determinism, Penguin, UK.


Rose, S., L. J. Kamin & R. C. Lewontin (1984) Not in Our Genes:

Biology, Ideology, and Human Nature, Penguin, N. Y.


Rose, H. and S. Rose, eds. (1976) Ideology of/in the Natural Sciences, Shenkman, Cambridge, MA.


Rosen, R. (1991) Life Itself, Columbia Univ. Press, NY


Roszak, T. (1974) The monster and the titan: Science, Knowledge, and Gnosis, in Science and its Public: The Changing Relationship, Proc. Am. Acad. Arts and Sci. 103:17-32.


Stock, Gregory (1993) Metaman: The merging of humans and machines into a global superorganism, Simon & Schuster, NY.