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November 29, 1971

Anthropomorphic Reductionism

JAMA. 1971;218(9):1428. doi:10.1001/jama.1971.03190220046014

The notion that no fundamental difference exists between man and the nonhuman universe, between matter and mind, is not new. Many philosophers have viewed the mind as an epiphenomenon of matter, a product of chemical and electrical phenomena in the brain. Some present-day computer scientists further "reduce" the human mind by imputing anthropomorphic qualities to inorganic electronic machines. A prominent professor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is quoted by Benson1 as saying: "In from three to eight years we will have a machine with the general intelligence of an average human being..."—a statement which confers intelligence on a machine and by implication deprives human intelligence of its singularity.

In rebutting this reductionist statement, Benson takes issue not so much with its philosophical or scientific fallacies, as with its semantic abuses. He calls attention to the dangers of anthropomorphic terms, such as, "recognition," "learning," "memory," "thinking," or "intelligence"— when