Thursday, January 25, 2007

On the significance of functionalism

BDK wrote: I just don't feel the same confidence in your a priori claims about what the sciences of the mind will end up with. I think we need to get an empirical grasp on cognitive systems before making pronouncements. That's largely why I'm a scientist and not a philosopher (and it isn't just the antinaturalists that are guilty of premature proclamations about the metaphysical implications of any future science of the mind).

VR: I think this has a lot to do with how these mental states are defined. If functionalist analysis of those states are plausible, then whether these functionally defined mental states are physically realized or not becomes an empirical question. However, if the arguments against functionalism work, then there seems to be to be a fundamental logical barrier to a materialist understanding of the relevant phenomena. That is why the debate of functionalism is so important.

William Hasker writes:

Once the pieces are assembled, the argument given here seems fairly obvious, and it has been overlooked until now. I am not sure of the reason for this, but a possible explanation is the following: When they write about rational processes, physialists typically deal with them cybernetically, using notions of "information," "representation" and the like that can be treated within the scheme of physical explanation.39 We thus become accustomed to the idea that these notions are at home within a physicalistic scheme--though to be sure, difficulties are encountered in the details of such accounts. If the physicalists in question are thoroughgoing functionalists, the issue of concsious experience is never addressed, so of course the question of the correspondence of experience to reality never emerges. If on the other hand consciousness is brought into the picutre, it is taken for granted that the mental experience supervenes on the physical state in such a way that (for instance) the cybernetically defined state identified witht he belief that there is a cow in the pasture is accompanied by the kind of conscious awarenesswe would associate with assenting to that belief. What the present argument brings out is that the correspondence between subjective experience and objective reality is an enormously important fact that needs explanation. But on the assumptions of physicalism, no explanation can be given--this correspondence, which we all assume to exist, has the appearance of a sheer miracle.

39. The work of Dretske is a good example of this.

From The Emergent Self (Ithaca: Cornell University Press) pp. 79-80.

5 Comments:

At 1/25/2007 09:09:00 PM , Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

I also can't see how qualia will fit within the scope of present neuroscience. With this psychological fact about myself (my own inability to imagine how it can be done) I draw no metaphysical implications. But I think it is perfectly reasonable to speculate that it is because qualia will never fit into any future neuroscience comfortably (when such facts are used to argue against naturalism (or materialism: Chalmers) I claim that such arguments are merely predictions about what you will think once the neuroscience is done: extreme confidence in such predictions has always struck me as somewhat strange).

There are a few options for the naturalist. a) Our concepts in neuroscience will expand so qualia don't seem mysterious within the physicalist ontology. b) Our concept of qualia will be revised (or even eliminated) so it no longer seems mysterious how qualia in with the neuroscientific perspective. c) both a) and b).

I tend to bet on option c, but also think some kind of dual property theory is interesting too (the latter wouldn't be considered naturalistic).

On the other hand, truth-valued intentional states (with referents, which can stand in evidentiary relations to one another) are less troublesome as they seem more amenable to the kinds of functional explanations we presently use in neuroscience. I think it is important to distinguish such states from qualia, and I have noticed that a lot of people run all these things together (just as we have realized that there is no single 'memory' skill, but many types of memory (long term, short term, episodic, semantic), I think the same is happening for 'mental states.'

I disagree that this hasn't been discussed. Perhaps Hasker wrote that before Nagel, Chalmers, Kim, etc.. This is a very active area of research within mainstream philmind.

 
At 1/25/2007 09:22:00 PM , Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Victor said:
I think this has a lot to do with how these mental states are defined.

I think one big difference between philosophers and scientists is that a scientist would never say this. What we care about is not the definitions as much as what it is out there that we are talking about. We use our initial (coarse and inadequate) understanding to guide an initial set of (coarse and inadequate) experiments, which leads to a more refined and nuanced understanding of what it is we are studying, which leads to more subtle experiments. Each set of experiments leads to a wealth of new data, which spawns a wealth of new ideas, concepts, and ultimately more unified theories which implicitly define what we started out with in the first place.

I know you probably didn't mean all that much by your statement, but I think it points to a very real limitation of philosophy, and the reason why it is always playing catch-up with science. Experiments provide traction for ideas, traction that you never get in philosophy.

On the other hand, maybe you got lucky. Without doing any serious neuroscience or psychology of consciousness, some 20th century philosophers hit upon the correct definition of consciousness from their armchairs (while staring at their hands, perhaps), a definition that will never be revised in a way significant enough to ban the inference that consciousness isn't part of nature.

That would be simply amazing. If you are right, I will buy you a cigar.

But I have to admit, you might be right. I await the science, but in the meantime I don't take it that my naturalism has been refuted.

 
At 1/26/2007 12:50:00 AM , Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Finally, functionalism isn't the same as naturalism. Many naturalists are not functionalists, and some antinaturalists are functionalists.

 
At 1/26/2007 07:46:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

bdk said: "I think it points to a very real limitation of philosophy, and the reason why it is always playing catch-up with science. Experiments provide traction for ideas, traction that you never get in philosophy."

One might argue that your notion of experimentation is flawed due to your bias toward the scientific method. Thought experiments have lead many a scientist to many a discovery, but the implication I perceive from you is that you demand that experiments be tangible and physical in nature or else they don't _qualify_ so to speak. The problem of this line of thought displays itself most vividly when you say:

bdk: "some 20th century philosophers hit upon the correct definition of consciousness from their armchairs (while staring at their hands, perhaps), a definition that will never be revised in a way significant enough to ban the inference that consciousness isn't part of nature. That would be simply amazing. If you are right, I will buy you a cigar.

But I have to admit, you might be right. I await the science, but in the meantime I don't take it that my naturalism has been refuted."


If consciousness isn't a part of nature, and if my assumption is correct that you expect experimentation and evidence to be physical (natural), what "science" exactly would you be waiting for to prove that the theory (consciousness isn't a part of nature) is correct?

It seems to me that unless you allow "thought experiments" (or philosophy as a whole) into your allowable forms (so to speak) of data, you'll be waiting forever and therefore have possibly closed the only avenue available to pursue a truth that might live outside the physical. Who exactly in this case would be playing catch-up? *grin*

 
At 1/26/2007 11:03:00 AM , Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

If consciousness isn't a part of nature, and if my assumption is correct that you expect experimentation and evidence to be physical (natural), what "science" exactly would you be waiting for to prove that the theory (consciousness isn't a part of nature) is correct?

Once we have a fleshed out the (naturalistic) empirically grounded picture of (what we now call) qualia, then these arguments will stop being silly. The vitalists argued that there was nothing natural that could account for inheritance. They did this before we had any kind of foothold on the science of inheritance. In that case, they turned out wrong.

But just having a more thorough scientific story doesn't have to show that naturalism is true. If the antinaturalists are right, once the neuroscience of qualia is "done", there will still remain a mystery. But to confidently make proclamations at the outset about the demise of naturalism, based on definitions gleaned from the armchair, is inauspicious at best.

 

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