Marvin Minksy

Marvin Minsky

This a collection of almost everything including stories, lessons, short quotes which I will keep updating often. Happy Learning!

I am obsessed with the question why you can pull with the string and not push with it?

Feel free to jump anywhere,


If you see a lot of people doing something then if you want to be sure that you want job someday do whats popular then you got a good chance. If you want to win a Nobel Prize or solve an important problem then don’t do whats popular because chances are you will be just a frog in it in a big pond of frogs.

There isn’t much time left, sun is going to be red giant in 3 billion years. So, we have to get out of here and the way to get out of here is to turn yourselves into smart robots. We have to get out of these bodies.

When Feynman faces a problem, he’s unusually good at going back to being like a child, ignoring what everyone else thinks. He was so unstuck — if something didn’t work, he’d look at it another way.

If you “understand’ something in only one way, then you scarcely understand it at all—because when you get stuck, you’ll have nowhere to go. But if you represent something in several ways, then when you get frustrated enough, you can switch among different points of view, until you find one that works for you!

Brain is amazing object. It started maybe 400 million years ago, just shortly after the plants and animals appeared. The plants just stayed where they are and animals were cells that could move around a bit. As evolution proceeded they found more ways to move using the same motor organs and there had to be some kind of switching, if you have a lot of muscles you need something to tell them what to do. At first, it was just clumps of neurons, neurons evolved very early in the history of animals and they are almost the same as today, that is basic chemistry and the way nevers conduct and the way most of the synapses work have not changed much for 400 million years. Because one problem with evolution is that if you evolve something and other activities depend on it then any change is liable to be fatal, so you could make only small change in how the neurons are organized and how many they are and how they are placed. Well what happened is that animals developed better locomotion, they needed better ways to control the motion and this little clump of cells that was the first brain(nobody knows what it was like) got duplicated and duplicated until it became the line of almost the same things. If you look inside of centipede you will see about 100 brain each sending signals to next and receving signals from its neighbours and interesting waves propogates and this animals moves along.

The most important thing from human point of view is that at some point the little brains in front became more and more concerned with perceptions things like rudimentary eyes, noses and ears evolved. We are descened from strain of animals that had 12 little brains in the front and couple of hundred trailing down. So typical fish or snake has little neural segment for each muscle that each maybe 300 in long snake but the vertebrates which evolved about 300 million years ago got these 12 big segments in front and those eventually fused to be brain.

400 million years ago we were fish and 300 million years ago we were amphibians on the coast and then 200 million years reptiles and mammals are about a 100 million years old and they developed and developed and about five million years ago the smartest animals were the Dolphins and the chimpanzees in two different worlds and no one knows just what happened in the five million years since we split from the orangutangs, baboons, chimpanzees and gorillas, those were the four main primates and we’re the ones where the brain start to develop more and more and the first few segments took over new functions.

While most neuroscientists are interested in how the brain cells work to me that’s pretty much like trying to understand a computer from how the transistors work it’s many many levels of organization below the important things that distinguish a human from a crayfish or a snake or whatever and I’m interested in the question of how the this piece of machinery the brain can do things like remember what it’s been doing in the past and can decide that what it’s doing didn’t work how does it develop new goals how does it develop new methods for achieving goals and most important how does it make a model of itself as a being in a world and think about its own future and its past and its relatives and this very high-level stuff and those are questions that neuroscientists don’t like to talk about very much because they see that as too futuristic, too vague and too high level. They still want to explain how people work in terms of how the neurons transmit sodium and potassium through their membranes and how each cell excites the next.

We all admire great accomplishments in the sciences, arts, and humanities—but we rarely acknowledge how much we achieve in the course of our everyday lives. We recognize the things we see, we understand the words we hear, and we remember things that we’ve experienced so that, later, we can apply what we’ve learned to other kinds of problems and opportunities. We also do a remarkable thing that no other creatures seem able to do: whenever our usual ways to think fail, we can start to think about our thoughts themselves—and if this “reflective thinking’ shows where we went wrong, that can help us to invent new and more powerful ways to think. However, we still know very little about how our brains manage to do such things. How does imagination work? What are the causes of consciousness? What are emotions, feelings, and thoughts? How do we manage to think at all?

Contrast this with the progress we’ve seen toward answering questions about physical things. What are solids, liquids, and gases? What are colors, sounds, and temperatures? What are forces, stresses, and strains? What is the nature of energy? Today, almost all such mysteries have been explained in terms of very small numbers of simple laws—such as the equations discovered by such physicists as Newton, Maxwell, Einstein, and Schrödinger. So naturally, psychologists tried to imitate physicists—by searching for compact sets of laws to explain what happens inside our brains.

What’s the important problem in next 100 years? We are going to have 20 billion old people and nobody to take care to them unless we get AI.

What’s difference between artist and engineers? When you do a painting then 9/10th of the problem is what should I paint, so you could think of an artist as 10% skill and 90% trying to figure out what problem to solve. Whereas for the engineers somebody has told him what to do so he going to paint 90% of time solving the problem and only 10% of time deciding what problem to solve. So, I don’t really see any difference between artist and engineers except that artists has lot many problems to solve than he can possibly solve and usually ends up by picking a really dumb one like lets have a saint and three angels, where should I put the third angel(that’s the engineering part 😛)?

“One-hundred years from now, people will say, ‘Well, the Internet was really important until the development of [true] artificial intelligence in 2073.’ The second bump was the big one.”

Tensors - things with lot of subscripts.


Religion is a sort of science that doesn’t use evidence, and in fact kills people who try to get it.

The best way to invent future is to make it. ~ Alan Kay

Every smart person want to be corrected, not admired.

We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are. ~ Anais Nin


When I(Robert Kuhn) suggested that Feynman couldn’t intimidate anyone because he was, well, dead, Marvin said he didn’t care. “It doesn’t matter that he’s dead,” Marvin said with a straight face. “I have a very good [mental] copy of him, and if I say something too speculative, I can hear Feynman say, ‘What would be the experiment for that?’”

I spent some time learning neuroscience(a great stroke of luck) when I was just a junior at Harvard, there was a great new building which was just finished and half occupied because it was made with future. So, I wondered over there and met a professor made John and I said I like to learn neurology. He said great, well I have a extra lab why don’t you study the crayfish claw, I said great. He gave me this lab which had 4 rooms and a dark room and lot of equipment and nobody there.

Always reminding myself that I am luckiest person in the world because everytime I wanted to do something I just happened to find the right person and they would give me a lab.

Another reason why I was lucky is that, if you had a mathematical question you could find the best mathematician in the world down the block somewhere.

Many years later when I was in Princetion(my grad school) I met the Robert Oppenheimer and that was a great pleasure. In fact, he took me to lunch with couple of other people I admire, namely Kurt Gödel and Albert Einstein which was very exicting. It would have been nice to meet Aristotle (no one really knows much about him), a lot of his writings is done from his students. Astonishing thing about Aristotle is that he seems to be more imaginative most congnitive scientists you will run into. Also, it would have been nice to meet Kant and Freud.

I was once giving a lecture and talking about living a long time and nobody in the audience seem interested. And I said suppose you could live for 400 years, I was asked wouldn’t it be boring. So then I tried it again in couple of other lectures and if you ask bunch of scientists how would you like to live for 400 years, almost all hands go up, everyone says yay! You ask them why and they say well I am working on a problem that I might solve if I get 400 years.

We once had Turing Test situation where in the early days we had teletypes attached to a big computer in Technology Square(MIT) and it was all connected to the first beautiful time sharing systems. One of the engineers who worked on time sharing systems was young professor named Herb Schneider. I fooled him for a minute into thinking that I had AI programmed actually I was in the other room. He would ask questions and I would answer them in very stilted computer like fashion. Then he said, “How much is one 15 digit number times another 15 digit number?” (some random 15 digit numbers) So I very cleverly replied, “Accumulator Overflow”. But I mispelled accumulator. So I failed the Turing Test.😛

There was one time when we went to IBM when we were building these big time sharing computer and asked them if they would support a project to make time shared computer. The head of research asked us to explain what it would do and the answer was we would have a big computer and we would have several teletypes and people would be typing on them, running a program. Each time somebody would type a character, the big computer would switch to their program and run a few steps of their program in response to that. And the head of IBM Research said, “That’s a terrible idea.” He said, “There are 30 people and they are typing 5 or 10 characters a second that means you are interrupting the computer 300 times a second. How could it ever get any work done?”

Sometime later IBM had researchers working on AI and Thomas Watson who was President to the company heard about that he said, “Nobody should use any expression like that.” Because he didn’t want public thinking that IBM was making intelligent machines. The customers would get very upset. The researchers continued the research for a while and never used the expression “AI” again.

When I was in grade school sometimes when I said something bright I would hear a teacher saying maybe he is another J. Robert Oppenheimer(3 or 4 years senior in same school). I changed school around 3rd grade. There was no European history then. To me American history is recent and European history is old. So, 1776 is after 1880. To me history ends with Napolean because then I got into 4th grade.

“Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,

A medley of extemporanea;

And love is a thing that can never go wrong;

And I am Marie of Roumania.”— Dorothy Parker

Here is a perfect deep dive into the poem.

No one finds it surprising these days when we make machines that do logical things, because logic is based on clear, simple rules of the sorts that computers can easily use. But Love by its nature, some people would say, cannot and ought not be explained in such ways. Listen to Pablo Neruda:

” …love has to be so,

involving and general,

particular and terrifying,

honoured and yet in mourning,

flowering like the stars,

and measureless as a kiss.” — from ‘Extravagaria’

Ray Kurzweil: On Marvin Minsky

Dear readers,

When I was 14 I wrote Marvin Minsky a letter asking to meet with him. He invited me to visit him at MIT and he spent hours with me as if he had nothing else to do.

When my daughter Amy was about eleven and we went out for a meal at the Harvest Restaurant in Cambridge with my wife Sonya and his wife Gloria, Amy and Marvin built a large structure on the restaurant table using all of the silverware, experimenting with different ways that the utensils could create stable structures.

There was no sense that he was working with an elementary school student. He approached this endeavor with the same combination of seriousness and whimsy that he would bring to his interactions with any colleague.

He was the consummate educator for that was his greatest joy and passion. But he was also many other things: a scientist, an inventor, an engineer, a roboticist, a writer, a philosopher, a polymath, a poet, a musician, and most of all, a student of human nature and thinking.

He was the principal pioneer of both the symbolic and connectionist schools of AI and made profound contributions that have enriched the field of computer science and of all of science. He was one of humanity’s great thinkers. He was also my only mentor. He will be deeply missed.

— Ray Kurzweil

Video: Ray Kurzweil Remembers Marvin Minksy

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: On Marvin Minsky

I have stolen some of excerpts from this undoubtedly the best article by Robert Lawrence Kuhn as a Tribute titled “Brains, Minds, AI, God: Marvin Minsky Thought Like No One Else

Meeting Minsky

Minsky was voluminous in his production of ideas, covering great swaths of intellectual terrain. Part of his charm was his iconoclastic stream of consciousness, generating a gusher of provocative and sometimes outrageous ideas that, agree with them or not, always made you think.

I met Marvin in 1999 during the inaugural season of “Closer to Truth.” He personified what we aspired to be on the show: inventive, insightful, irreverent, fearless, rigorous, tough-minded, iconoclastic, daring, whimsical. I wanted to do what Marvin did: challenge conventional belief, taking our topics seriously, but not ourselves.

Timorously, I invited Marvin to participate in our first taping session at KOCE, a small PBS station in Orange County, California. In retrospect, I realize I was asking an international superstar, whom I had never met and who certainly did not know me, to fly across the country to appear with an unknown host on a not-yet-broadcast television show — and be a co-equal on an opaque panel with four others whose identities I couldn’t even suggest, much less confirm. I prepared myself for rejection, more likely for no response at all.

Marvin accepted immediately. Of course he’d do it — that was Martin — and do it he did. He provided incisive insights. Combative arguments. Effervescent style. No airs or pretensions.

I asked him about his book, “The Society of Mind” (Simon & Schuster, 1988), which combined ideas from artificial intelligence and developmental psychology to develop his thesis that human minds are composed of hundreds of mini-mind modules (Marvin estimated about 400 of them), each of which evolved to execute highly specific tasks. And when integrated together, they generate a constructed sense of conscious unity. (All Minsky quotes in this essay are from his multiple appearances on “Closer to Truth.”) [Scientists Closing in on Theory of Consciousness]

“It’s trying to figure out how the mind works,” Minsky told me, “without the commonsense belief that somewhere inside the mind there’s a ‘self’ that’s sort of in control and commanding everything. So the question is, how do you get mindlike behavior from a brain really made of roughly 400 different computers? They do different things. They don’t agree on everything. How do you get reasonable, commonsense behavior out of such a system?”

Minsky’s concept of a “society” is that all these separate “mind computers” are working together in the brain. But “it’s not like human society,” he clarifies, “where each person works pretty well independently.”

When producer/director Peter Getzels and I restructured “Closer to Truth,” Minsky was again among our first, most-desired interviews — this time, one-on-one at MIT (2007). Marvin was penetrating and fiery; even on the edges of knowledge, he never hesitated, offering his scintillating, idiosyncratic and often radical takes on the nature of the cosmos, the inner workings of minds and consciousness, and how human beings might achieve immortality. It was a treat; we were swept up by his passion, engulfed by his intellect.

The Minsky way of thinking

How to distinguish Minsky’s way of thinking? I’d start with two organizing principles. First, “How does it work?” He applied this, for starters, to brains, minds, computers, natural intelligence, artificial intelligence, information, society, religion and God. Second, “Don’t be sure!” As Minsky asserted, “The word ‘sure’ is when a cognitive process has turned off all other processes that can cast doubt on a particular statement. ‘Being sure’ is not ‘being sure.’ Being sure is a process saying, ‘I’m not going to change my mind.’”

It’s no secret that Marvin was a strong atheist, and irrespective of one’s beliefs, one can appreciate — dare I say “enjoy” — his bluntness. “If you want real meaning, and you can’t find one, it’s all very well to make one up,” he told me. “But I don’t see how that [God] solves any problems. Unless you say how God works, saying that God exists doesn’t explain anything.”

If there is a God, I’d be disappointed if Marvin isn’t one of God’s favorites. (Actually, I’d be shocked.)

In the 17 years of “Closer to Truth,” whether in discourse with atheists or with theists, I’ve tried to elicit best thinking and tease out clear arguments, which we question and challenge equally. We think critically with an ever-open mind. We reject only sloppy, specious arguments — and often, I ask myself, “What would Marvin think?”