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Was Babbage's Analytical Engine an Instrument of Psychological Research?

Green, Christopher D. (2002) Was Babbage's Analytical Engine an Instrument of Psychological Research?. In Proceedings Instrumentalisation in Psychological Research, Berlin.

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Abstract

Charles Babbage (1791-1871) began work on a mechanical computer that he dubbed the Analytical Engine in the mid-1830s. The machine was to constitute a dramatic improvement on his earlier Difference Engine, which he had originally conceived primarily as a way of automating the process of computing and printing accurate mathematical tables. Almost from the beginning, however, people around Babbage described his inventions in ways that suggest they believed the machines to be endowed with, or at least to closely model, authentic mental powers. Even today, one regularly sees the Analytical Engine cited as an early attempt at computational cognitive science. Babbage himself, however, seems to have steadfastly refrained from making public claims regarding the putative mentality of his machines. Despite his own reluctance to publicly endorse the idea that he had developed a "mechanical mind," he does not seem to have prevented, or even discouraged, those who worked with him from mooting the idea in their own publications on the topic. This paper investigates whether (1) the Analytical Engine was indeed the focus of a covert research program orchestrated by Babbage into the mechanism of mentality, (2) Babbage personally opposed the idea that the Analytical Engine was kind or model of mentality but allowed his colleagues to speculate as they saw fit, or (3) Babbage personally believed such claims to be fanciful, but cleverly used the publicity they engendered as a means of drawing public and political attention to his project.

EPrint Type:Conference Paper
Keywords:Babbage, computation, congnitive science, history
Subjects:Chronology > 19th Century
Geography > Europe
History > Instruments
History > Intellectual
Psychology > Cognition
Psychology > Computational
Theory > Materialism
Theory > Mechanism
ID Code:52
Deposited By:Green, Christopher D.
Deposited On:13 June 2002
Alternative Locations:http://www.yorku.ca/christo/papers/babbage-berlin.htm