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You are required to read the following pages of the text book and the definitions and examples given on my assigned webpages. The "Helpful Questions" are here to help you understand the reading.and to anticipate the points I will be discussing in class. If you can master this material without following the reading questions, then you don't have to bother with them. However, the additional text I give on these pages is required because at least some of the points it covers will be on the tests.

Alternative or Supplemental Reading

If you've lost your textbook, or you would like a bit more help with these ideas, you can read Function Essay instead of or as well as the regular reading. You should read this study guide whatever else you do. If you stick with the regular texbook reading, please make absolutely sure you work though the following study guide as well.

Remember, you will be tested on the reading before the next lecture. Be ready to answer questions about these issues.

Your reading is from Does the Center Hold? by Donald Palmer.

Read pages 136-144 (in the 6th edition), or pages 136-144 in 5th Edition, or pages 139-147 in 4th Edition, or pages 138-146 in 3rd Edition

Reading Questions (Start at the heading "Functionalism and its Discontents")
From whence did functionalism emerge?
What three disciplines are combined to make cognitive science? (<-- That's an optional outlink.)
According to functionalism, how should we not think of the mind?
According to functionalism, how should we think of the mind?
What is a system?
How is a system different from a thing?
What is a "function?"

One way to look at the difference between "systems" and mere "things" is that systems have interacting parts and do things, whereas "things" have no parts and don't do anything. Think about the difference between a cellphone and a cell-phone shaped stone. A cellphone has all kinds of different parts connected to each other in intricate ways, while a stone is a fairly homogenous mass of rock crystals. The parts of a cell phone do different things at different times depending on inputs and mutual interactions. The rock crystals just sit there. A cellphone can do lots of different things. A rock can just sit there. The upshot of this is that only systems can have variable outputs. "Things," having no parts, cannot have internal interactions to perform functions. A cellphone works because it is made of parts that interact in certain way. A homogeneous mass of the same material would be capable of no functions beyond that of a paperweight. Systems can do stuff because they have parts. Things without parts cannot do stuff.

Thinky Question
Could something that did not have parts produce any of the wonderful variety of ideas that comprise human minds?
If you think that this is possible, give me one example of an object with no parts that has a function more complicated than that of a paperweight.

The relationship between functions and systems is that a given function (say, telling time) can be realized by a variety of systems, such as water clocks, wooden "clockwork" clocks, metal "clockwork" clocks, quartz crystal clocks and, finally, purely digital clocks. Although these are all wildly different systems, they all perform the same function, (although some do it better than others.)

The most basic tenet of functionalism is that mind is a function while a particular mature and healthy human brain is a particular system that performs that function. The mind is the function of the brain. The brain is a system that (usually) produces mind. The first logical consequence of this is the implication that any system that did everything brains do would therefore make a mind. This leads to the idea that if we could create a computer or other machine that actually did all the things brains did, that machine would make a mind.

Of course, this is a very big "if." Even a cursory study of neurology reveals that the brain is a very, very, very complicated system. It's more like a system of systems of systems, all of which interact with each other in incredibly complicated ways. Thus an intelligent, conscious computer is a long, long way off, even if it is possible at all.

In the reading, Palmer writes that "According to the functionalist model, minds primarily carry out computations." I personally think this is false, or at least wildly misleading. I'm pretty sure that functionalists think that minds do what everyone else thinks minds do. I think that functionalism holds that minds think, which is to say that according to the functionalist model, minds primarily form ideas, draw inferences, react to stimuli and do whatever else human minds do. However, it might be fair to say that functionalism holds that brains accomplish all these things by carrying out computations. However again, we must be careful about what we mean by "computation." Palmer also writes that "the process of computation can be characterized as the manipulation of symbols according to formal rules" which I guess is a fair characterization of high-level computer programming. It doesn't really describe machine-language programming, and it doesn't come close to describing what the CPU chip in a computer actually does. More importantly, it doesn't really describe what neural nets do, whether they be natural or artificial. In this text, I'm going to take the word "computation" to mean "whatever kinds of signal processing it is that human brains do." If it's some way a brain reacts to some kind of signal, then it's a "computation" as far as this class is concerned.

More Reading Questions
According to Palmer, what is "computation?"
According to functionalism, what does it take to have a mind?
What is "human chauvanism?"
What error does functionalism want to avoid?
What do functionalists say about mental phenomena?
What does "multiple realizability" mean?

I've just noticed that Palmer characterizes functionalism as saying that anything that performs computations has a mind. I really don't think functionalism says that, because computers perform computations, and none of the computers we have right now has a mind.

More importantly, the claim that brains make minds by performing lots of very specific and very complicated computations does not commit us to the idea that anything that performs any computations will make a mind.

More Reading Questions
If immaterial beings, like ghosts or demons performed brain-type computations, what would functionalism say about that?
Why is functionalism not necessarily a form of materialism?
In what sense is functionalism currently a materialistic theory?

More Reading Questions
Are events in the brain material or immaterial events?
Are thoughts and intentions material events?
Is the solution to a math problem, such as the square root of nine, a material event?
Where are mental events realized?
Are mental events identical to parts of brains?
Why don't we have to choose between the language of the neurologist and the language of common sense?
According to functionalism, are mental events real?
According to functionalism, is materialism true?

You can ignore the quotation from John Heil. It's complicated and irrelevant, and it uses a lot of words that Palmer hasn't explained. (And it's wrong.) So there's really no point in you reading it.

More Reading Questions
Is Searle arguing against the Mind-Brain Identity Theory?
Is Searle arguing against the Materialism?
What exactly is Searle arguing against?
What is a "semantics" supposed to explain?
What is a successful theory of mind supposed to explain?
What is a syntax?
How is syntax different from semantics?
According to Searle, what does a computer have?
According to Searle, what does a computer not have?
If a parrot says "fine thanks" every time it hears the words "how are you," does that mean that the parrot understands the question?
If a person says "fine thanks" every time he hears the words "how are you," does that mean that this person understands that question?

You can skip over the rest of this paragraph. I think it just makes the same point in different terms.

Thinky Questions
If I train you to utter the words "foony bol tult beeegie" every time I touch the top of my left ear, does that, by itself, bestow a mind on you?
Does failing to bestow a mind on you mean that you don't have a mind?
If training you to say "foony bol tult beeegie" fails to bestow a mind on you, does that failure, all by itself, mean you can't have a mind.
Does failing to bestow a mind on a parrot mean that that parrot doesn't have a mind?
Does one single instance of failing to bestow a mind on a computer mean that no computer can ever have a mind?
What do persons do that demonstrates that they have minds?
Has Searle proved that computers are only capable of manipulating uninterpreted symbols?
(If he has, you need to write out that proof and email it to me.)
Does Searle give any reason at all for believing that computers are only capable of manipulating uniterpreted symbols?
(If he has, you need to write out that reason and email it to me.)
Has Searle given any explanation of how human brains accomplish semanitics?
(If he has, you need to write out that explanation and email it to me.)
Does Searle give any reason for believing that computers cannot do whatever it is human brains do to make semantics?
How do you think human brains do semantics? (It's perfectly okay for you to say "I have no idea!" as your answer to this question.)
Easier question: What do human beings (and some other animals) do that proves that they do semantics?
Suppose you train a child to say "I'm hungry" whenever she feels a need for food, "I'm thirsty" whenever she feels a need for fluids, "it's a doggie" whenever she sees a domesticable canine, and so on over thousands and thousands of progressively more complicated and subtle internal and external conditions, what else would you need to do to demonstrate that the child had a mind?
Apart from reporting internal states, commenting on external conditions, and processing information about both, exactly what do human beings do that demonstrates that they have minds?
Suppose a parrot, that really was sick, replied "not so good," instead of it's usual "fine thanks" when you asked "how are you?"

Suppose we made a machine with a computer brain that could report report on its internal states and observations of the world with all the accuracy and innacuracy, subtlety, comprehensiveness, imagination, thoughtfullness and individuality of any individual human being, what else would it have to be able to do in order to demonstrate that it had a mind?

Suppose that we created a robot with a computer brain that could absorb, integrate, apply and evaluate information, and initiate actions in the manner of a human brain. And also suppose this robot started with no information beyond a rudimentary vocabulary, but was then educated by conversation and demonstration in exactly the manner of a human child, starting with the most simple concepts and activities and working up to the most complicated and subtle aspects of human life so that not only could the robot understand the concept of love but also could, if it met the right person, fall in love itself. Do we know anything about the human brain that says we cannot in principle eventually program a robot to do exactly what a human being does to fall in love?

Has Searle demonstrated that computer-brained machines are incapable of reporting on their internal states?
Has Searle demonstrated that computer-brained machines are incapable of reporting on what their sensors tell them?
Has Searle demonstrated that computer-brained machines are incapable of processing information the way humans process information?

The Problem of Qualia

Start reading at the phrase "Another kind of argument against functionalism . . . "

Reading Questions
What are "qualia?"
What is the difference between having qualia, and not having qualia?
Is Thomas Nagel asking what it would be like if you were a bat? What is he actually asking?

What does John Searle think is the cause of all mental phenomena?
What is a "micro-macro" relationship?
According to Searle, how is neurology like physics?
What is the difference between an objective and a subjective fact?

Thinky Questions
Has anyone demonstrated how humans do qualia?
Has anyone given any reason to think that machines can't ever do the same thing?

The human visual field - your visual qualia - is made by an area of the brain called the "striate cortex" which is part of the occipital lobe of your brain. Damage to this cortex produces loss of visual qualia. (See Blindsight) You still things, but you're no longer conscious of seeing them. This area of the brain is made up of . . . . neurons. Neurons process information. Neurons can be modelled in computers, which means that when we have powerful enough computers we will be able to program them to process information in exactly the same way as this cortex. Since we can in principle make a machine to do exactly what the brain does to produce qualia, do we have any reason to think that computers won't be able to do qualia?

If you think such a reason exists, please write it out and email it to me. (Remember, it has to be a reason. Writing "only biological brains can do qualia" or words to that effect doesn't count as a reason.)

Read pages 129-133 (in the 6th edition), or pages129-133 in 5th Edition, or pages 132-136 in 4th Edition, or pages 131-135 in 3rd Edition

Potential questions for Quiz
What is a “system?”
What is a “thing?”
What is the difference between a system and a thing?
What does it mean to see the mind as a system?
What does it mean to see the mind as a thing?
What is the difference between seeing the mind as a system and seeing it as a thing?
According to the functionalist model, what do minds do?
What are the functions of the mind?
According to functionalism, how should we think of the mind?
Does functionalism think that only a biological human brain can ever make a mind?
Does functionalism think that any device that carries out computations will have a mind?
Does functionalism think that the mind is not made by the brain?
Does functionalism imply that computers have minds?
According to functionalism, what does it take to have a mind?
What is John Searle's objection to functionalism?
Explain Searle’s “Chinese Room” argument in detail.
What is your instructor's response to Searle's Chinese Room argument?
What is the correct definition of “qualia?”
Explain the “qualia” argument against functionalism?
Has anyone demonstrated how human brains do qualia?
What part of the brain produces visual qualia?
Does this part of the brain contain any working parts besides neurons?
Is there any reason to think that neurons can’t produce qualia?
(If there is, you will have to write it out and send it to me.)
Is there any reason to think we can’t produce a machine that does exactly what brains do to produce qualia?
(If there is, you will have to write it out and send it to me.)

How To Make Up Quizzes
If for some reason, (illness, family emergency, conflicting academic obligation, sudden discovery that you have superpowers coupled with the need to save the Earth from a hurtling asteroid that only you can deflect), you miss one of my delightful quizzes, you can make up the lost points by writing up a clear, precise, and deeply insightful answer to one of the potential exam questions and turning the results in as "make-up quiz." Illustrations are not absolutely necessary, but would add a nice touch.

Potential Exam Questions

All answers must be in your own words. Your answers should be clear and include all relevant details. You are expected to explain your answers fully, with whatever definitions, background, analysis, arguments and examples are necessary to make your answers clear and complete. Go as deeply into the topic as you can. Give the argument(s) supporting the relevant doctrine(s). If a doctrine has been criticized, explain the criticism. If the criticism fails, explain why it fails. Add any comments you think fit. A perfect answer will include all relevant facts, assumptions and arguments, and will clearly explain how those facts, assumptions and arguments are related to each other. Every important term will be clearly defined, and examples will be used to clarify all important distinctions. You can make your answer better than perfect by including other good stuff, such as your own insightful comments and reasonable critcisms of your professor's arguments. An imperfect answer that includes other good stuff can get as much credit as a perfect answer that doesn't.

Explain the concept of a "system," and the role played by this concept in the argument for functionalism.
Your answer should explain the concepts of "function" and "multiple realizability," cover the difference between a "system" and a "thing," and explain why systems can do things that "things" cannot. You should then show how these concepts are deployed as part of the overall argument for functionalism, filling in other parts of the argument as appropriate.

Explain the concept of "human chauvanism," and how it impedes our quest for understanding the mind. You should define human chauvanism in your own words, and explain how it is different from rational thinking. You should also discuss how it may be at the root of many of the common objections to functionalism, and whether it should properly be considered closer to mythos than logos.

Explain the relationship between functionalism and materialism. Is functionalism necessarily a form of materialism? According to functionalism what would have to be true for an immaterial object to be the cause of mind? Could an immaterial object that was a system composed of immaterial parts possibly create a mind? Could a material object that was a thing with no parts possibly create a mind? Come to think of it, is it logically possible for an immaterial object to be a system composed of immaterial parts?

Explain and evaluate John Searle's argument against functionalism. Explain the concepts of "semantics" and "syntax" as Searle uses them. Explain how Searle sees these concepts as exposing a flaw in the doctrine of functionalism. Say what Searle is not arguing against, and state his point as precisely as possible. Then discuss the flaws in Searle's argument. Has Searle identified what it is that human brains do that makes sematics? Has he proved that machinery cannot be created to do precisely that? Finally, discuss what semantics really is and why we have reason to think that computers might eventually be able to do that.

Explain the concept of "qualia," how it might be taken argument against functionalism, and critically evaluate that argument. Explain what qualia are, and clearly deliniate the difference between having qualia and not having qualia. Explain Nagle's question about bats, and why it is relevant here. Say what you can about how bats and humans make qualia, and how computers might or might not eventually be able to make qualia. Finally, explain why the idea of qualia might be taken as an argument against functionalism, and explain why it fails to work as an argument against functionalism.

Any exam answer can be enhanced by addition of any comments that occur to you, especially comments that point out possible logical problems with the material and ideas I have presented. The more you think about a topic, the more likely you are to come up with something that can earn you a little more credit for your answer. I never deduct points, so it can't hurt to add your own thoughts.

Copyright © 2013 by Martin C. Young

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