Embodied Functionalism and Inner Complexity: Simon’s 21 st -century Mind



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1 A few words about terminology are in order. Functionalism holds that the nature of a mental state is its causal role – its characteristic causal relations to inputs, outputs, and other mental states – not what kind of physical stuff its made of; functionalism thus allows that two creatures with different kinds of material bodies could be in the same mental state, so long as both creatures are in some state or other, of whatever composition, that plays the causal role individuative of the kind of mental state in question. Computational states are a kind of functional state, to be sure, individuated in terms of what they contribute to computational processing regardless of their physical composition. But, computational states are not necessarily a kind of mental state; so one could endorse a computational functionalism of sorts, without thinking computation has anything to do with the mind. In contrast, computationalism in cognitive science asserts that at some level of description (perhaps the neural level, perhaps the subpersonal level), a computational formalism provides the best way to model cognition-related processing or, ontologically speaking, that computational processing contributes significantly to the production of intelligent behavior (or other data of cognitive science). Computational functionalism results when a functionalist adopts an explicitly computational perspective about mental states mind, holding that mental states are, metaphysically speaking, functional states the nature of which is to play causal roles characteristic of computational states. For further discussion, see Piccinini (2010).

2 In the sense that at least some of the properties that play a causal-explanatory role are not identical to properties of independent interest in the physical sciences. They are, instead, multiply realizable, even if some of the properties – the embodiment-oriented ones – place stringent constraints on the range of physical structures that can realize them.

3 There are ways for embodiment theorists to resist. For instance, there’s an enormous literature on the so-called grounding problem (Harnad 1990), which suggests that for any mental representation to have content, it must be associated with sensorimotor states; an embodiment theorist who endorses this sensorimotor constraint on content and holds that the nature of sensorimotor states can’t be captured functionally will have genuinely set herself against functionalism. But, to make this anti-functionalist position credible, the embodiment theorist must give an alternative scientific account of the said sensorimotor states, and that has been thus far missing from the embodiment literature. Similar remarks apply to embodiment theorists who assign a privileged role to conscious experiences connected to the body or to certain biological processes. Consciousness and the maintenance of organismic integrity might play privileged roles in our understanding of cognition, but that does not itself speak against functionalism, unless accompanied by a scientifically respectable nonfunctionalist account of consciousness and of life.




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