But ultimately—like other computer languages—Mathematica tends to be concerned mostly with setting up fairly short specifications for quite definite computations. Yet in everyday human thinking we seem instead to use vast amounts of stored data to perform tasks whose definitions and objectives are often quite vague.
There has in the past been a great tendency to assume that given all its apparent complexity, human thinking must somehow be an altogether fundamentally complex process, not amenable at any level to simple explanation or meaningful theory.
But from the discoveries in this book we now know that highly complex behavior can in fact arise even from very simple basic rules. And from this it immediately becomes conceivable that there could in reality be quite simple mechanisms that underlie human thinking.
Certainly there are many complicated details to the construction of the brain, and no doubt there are specific aspects of human thinking that depend on some of these details. But I strongly suspect that there is a definite core to the phenomenon of human thinking that is largely independent of such details—and that will in the end turn out to be based on rules that are rather simple.
So how will we be able to tell if this is in fact the case? Detailed direct studies of the brain and its operation may give some clues. But my guess is that the only way that really convincing evidence will be obtained is if actual technological systems are constructed that can successfully be seen to emulate human thinking.
And indeed as of now our experience with practical computing provides rather little encouragement that this will ever be possible. There are certainly some tasks—such as playing chess or doing algebra—that at one time were considered indicative of human-like thinking, but which are now routinely done by computer. Yet when it comes to seemingly much more mundane and everyday types of thinking the computers and programs that exist at present tend to be almost farcically inadequate.
So why have we not done better? No doubt part of the answer has to do with various practicalities of computers and storage systems. But a more important part, I suspect, has to do with issues of methodology.