|Comments from Prof Richard Cocks
The computational theory of mind “CTM” has been shown in Irreducible Mind to be a failure – the analogy between mind and computers is a bad one and is an historical accident. Because we happened to invent computers we have used them as a metaphor for the mind, until we start imagining that comparing short term memory to RAM is actually meaningful and revealing. Calling whatever is going on in the mind ‘code’ is a thin metaphor – there is no C++ for the mind and no literal zeroes and ones. As a metaphor this is nonexplanatory.
As for brain damage affecting the mind, this proves correlation but not causation. The brain is a necessary, but not necessarily a sufficient condition of in-body consciousness. But even this is questionable as per the examples in Irreducible Mind of the death bed recoveries of long term strongly insane people, and very advanced dementia cases.
I disagree that John Searle is tedious and doesn’t add anything. Psychologists and others can end up very conceptually confused and there is a place for philosophers to point out that, for instance, a computer’s ability to supply synonyms is not the same as understanding anything. The analogy is with the Chinese room example. Here a person in a room is handed Chinese characters. The person has a book of instructions. He looks up the characters (which he doesn’t understand) and is told by the rule book to respond with some other characters he doesn’t understand. To a Chinese speaking person the person in the room seems to be understanding and making the correct responses, but is not. The Chinese room example characterizes what a computer does, but not what a Chinese speaking person does. Another famous example from philosophy of mind is an imagined person brought up in a black and white room. The person learns everything there is to learn about colors but never actually experiences any colors. If we say the person still doesn’t actually know what colors are, what has been omitted from all this learning?
I have personally listened to empirical research programs being described at conferences that are so conceptually flawed that they are in no way testing what they claim to be testing. Philosophy and empiricism need each other; i.e., theory and data. The question can often arise, however, - does my theory trump the data (flawed data), or does my data trump my theory (flawed theory). Situations arise in which it is hard to tell. The mechanists think that all psi phenomena are flawed data and they will maintain this without even looking at the data, or they will dredge up an example that is in fact flawed and smear all psi experiments. This is of course true of any dogmatic position.
The Web is not a mechanical brain. The only reason the Web contains meaningful information is because there are people reading it. The meaning is supplied by the nonmechanical minds of readers. My computer understands no more of what I am writing than my monitor (pace computer and monitor in case you stop working out of spite), and the Web no more than my computer and monitor.
Imagining that if you can correlate stimuli with response, input with output, then you needn’t worry about what goes on in between was the mistake of behaviorists. Inputs can remain the same and outputs change – consciousness is what makes the difference. If you ask me a question, I might give you an answer. Ask the capital of Honduras, I’ll say Tegucigalpa. Input – What is the capital of Honduras? Output – Tegucigalpa. If you keep asking me the question for three hours I will first try to ignore you, then leave the vicinity. If the vicinity is my living room I will try to eject you and I will stay. What accounts for the different response? My mind. Ignoring mind meant that behaviorism failed. Computers, unless told to do otherwise, can usually be counted on to provide the same output. You can ‘ask’ a computer the capital of Honduras for three years, and the same answer will be supplied. No mind to mess up stimuli/response behaviorism.
There is some place for thought-experiments. I would also regard much of ‘Irreducible Mind’ as philosophy and empirical evidence for your philosophical arguments never hurts a bit.