Dreyfus, Hubert & Stuart Dreyfus – Mind over Machine

  • humans versus computers. The book is divided in three parts: the first part is composed of the 1st chapter, the second part of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th chapters, while the last part is to be found in the 5th and 6th chapters. The thematic of the tripartite structure is as follow: the presentation of five stages from novice to expert (first part) why the fist 3 steps apply to machines but the last 2 steps apply to humans (second part) and a critical evaluation of computers in such fields as i) education and ii) management (third part). So, the 5th chapter is presenting the evaluation of computers in education pointing to the book written by Robert Taylor in 1980: “The computer in the school: tutor, tool, tutee”; while the 6th chapter is discussing the evaluation of computers in management pecking at such important book as: “In search of excellence” (by Thomas Peters and Robert Waterman, 1982) or “The nature of managerial work” (by Henry Mintzberg, 1973). Having presented the whole picture of the book, I propose now to take a closer look at the second part, the part where the computers are compared with the humans. In chapter 2, the authors are presenting two different metaphors: i) the mind/ brain as computer (this metaphor covers the first three phases of the model – novice, advanced beginner and competent) and ii) the mind/ brain as holon (this metaphor covers the last two phases of the model – proficient and expert). Chapter 3 is a short summary of the phases of AI work from the beginning up to 1986. Among these phases we are accustomed with: i) Cognitive Stimulation program, ii) Semantic Information Processing program, iii) Commonsense Understanding program and iv) Distributive Associative Memories program. In the following chapter, we found out that there is a fifth generation computers named “expert systems”. Although they are named “expert” their level of accuracy is at the competent level, not at the expert level. From this standing position, the Dreyfus brothers are reviewing and criticizing “The Fifth Generation” book, written by Feigenbaum and McCorduck in 1983.

The map1:

  • reason versus intuition. The Dreyfus brothers, in the first chapter of their book, are proposing a scale o evaluation containing 5 steps: along this continuum, at the one end is reigning the “know how” or the practice/ experience; while at the other end is situated the “know that” or the facts/ rules. These two ends are united with the help of “ladders”, “steps”, “stages” or “levels”. This process of knotting off by a line two ends could be described also by the “tug of war”, “rope”, “rainbow” or “bridge”: in fact, the Dreyfus are drawing four such lines in order to make sense of their 5 levels. One of these lines is disputing the difference between holism/ atomism; another between reason/ intuition. And so on and on. Probably the most controversial line is of “reason versus intuition”, a distinction that holds central stage in chapter 5 and 6. The authors are arguing that intuition is a characteristic trait only for human, while reason could be found also to computers. This distinction is also depicted in the old Greek fables like the dwarf sitting on the shoulders of a giant, or like the symbiosis of blind and lame. However, even if the distinction between reason and intuition makes sense, as a critique to this book, one can notice it is drawn from a reason point of view – as if the two brothers were trying in fact to teach computers, not humans, of the existence of it.

The map2:

The image:


  • Stuart Dreyfus (1982): “Formal models vs. human situational understanding. Inherent limitations on the modeling of business expertise”, Office Technology and People, 1 (2/3), pp. 133-165
  • Hubert Dreyfus & Stuart Dreyfus (1986): “Mind over machine. The power of human intuition and expertise in the era of the computer”, The Free Press

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