The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"

Computational Functionalism

But how do mental states cause physical behavior? This was still the old conundrum of dualism: how do mind and body interact?

A possible solution was found by analogy with a device that had become very popular in the 1950s: the computer. The computer implemented the very concept that a substance (the software) can influence another substance (the hardware).

Functionalism thus begot "computational functionalism" (Hilary Putnam, Jerry Fodor, Stephen Stich, Ned Block), according to which the mind is a program and the brain is its hardware, and the execution of that program in that hardware yields a result which is the external behavior of the organism.

The mind is a symbol processor (just like a computer) and mental states are related to computational states.

Another special case of computational functionalism is "homuncular" functionalism (Daniel Dennett, William Lycan), which decomposes the mind into smaller and smaller minds until it reduces to a physical state: a mental process is the product of  many lower mental processes, and each of these lower processes is the product of more and more primitive processes. Each lower layer is less “mental” than the previous one. At the bottom of this hierarchy are the neural processes of the brain.

The most common critique of functionalism is that it is utterly implausible that objects different from a brain can have a mind. But then (as Chalmers has pointed out) the brain itself, that ugly, messy, sticky mass of gray and white matter, is an unlikely candidate for something so special as a mind. Why should a computer look more bizarre than a brain?

Does mind reside in organization or in substance? Or both?


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