Thinking- what is it? What does it mean for human beings to think? Are we about to be surpassed by artificial thinking? Many people think so, but not Teppo Felin, as far as I understand him. In this episode, EconTalk host Russ Roberts welcomes back Felin to discuss these questions, based on a working paper Felin has written with Matthias Holweg. Felin explains that the human ability to ignore existing data and evidence is not only our Achilles heel, but also one of our superpowers. So what is it we actually do when we’re thinking???

After listening to the podcast, we’d love to hear your thoughts. Share your answers to the prompts below in the Comments, or use them to start your own offline conversation. Either way, we’re here for it.



1- What’s wrong with thinking of the the brain as a computer? This pervasive metaphor has been around since the 50s. It’s true, says Felin, that neural networks make connections, but the brain is still not quite a computer- something else is going on. How should we understand the brain instead, according to Felin?


2- Large Language Models can take in so much content, Felin says it would take humans hundreds of years to pre-train their brains for the same number of words. He describes LLMs as employing a stochastic process that’s very good at “predicting the next forward.” If LLMs contain so much content, why can’t they think like humans? What’s the significance of looking backward in the process of human thinking?


3- Felin argues that using AI to make rational decisions is a fool’s game, as is the idea of being being able to rid AI of bias. Why are biases a feature, not a bug, of human cognition? What is the relationship of beliefs and theories to thinking, and how does this differentiate human thinking from AI?


4- Felin uses the charming example of the Wright brothers, insisting that no Venture Capitalist would have given them any money. Why, according to Felin, would AI have hampered the Wright brothers’ progress? Why, conversely, were they able to succeed?


5- Roberts quotes Yann LeCun; “Prediction is the essence of intelligence.” How much does prediction have to with intelligence, according to Felin? What does Felin mean when he says, “…that’s something that computers can’t do. They take existing data as a given, whereas we as human beings find and create, through experiments, new data.” To what extent is there a meaningful distinction between digital and biological intelligence, and how might you describe it?