Prof. Marvin Minsky
Dylan Holmes (dxh@mit), Robert McIntyre (rlm@mit).
When and where
Wednesdays from 7-9pm, in
Note (31 Jan): This website is under active construction. New
content will appear regularly over the next few days.
About the 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. Both books are available in paperback at the
Coop, and the full text of The Emotion Machine is also available on Prof. Minsky's
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
- 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.
- Student-driven discussions. We will have student-driven
discussions in the latter half of most lectures. This will involve
small groups of students forming a panel in the front of the class
and talking among themselves and with the audience about a
particular topic— very much like a talk show.
You'll know the topic in advance, and
will know which week will be your turn, so you'll be able to
plan and prepare accordingly.
We will provide supplementary materials (articles, book
chapters, websites, online videos, etc.) and questions to help you
prepare for the student-driven discussion. We expect that the discussions
will be informal and fun— not intimidating — however,
if you believe that this will not be the case for you, you should
contact the TAs so that we can discuss it.
- Visiting lecturers. We anticipate a number of eminent guest speakers throughout the
semester. These speakers could give a talk about their specialty, or
engage in discussion with the audience about a pre-determined
paper. In short, you'll have the opportunity to hear and speak with
several luminaries of artifical intelligence and other nearby fields.
- 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 6.868. 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.
Why it's important to understand intelligence
to The Emotion Machine— and, of course, bring
your questions to class.
Fill out the registration survey, which will be put online shortly.