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In What Way Has The Computer Been A Useful Tool For How We Think About Minds? What Are Its Limitations?

3967 words - 16 pages

Consciousness is an ambiguous entity. This is a fundamental reason why it is so fiercely debated. It is so personal to each of us – it’s within us – yet we cannot explain with assurance what it actually is, what it does, what it is made of. This has led to many different theories regarding the mind and consciousness, none of which are right as in ‘true’ – each can be argued. There is no ultimate knowledge, only beliefs and opinions. Descartes has made the closest statement to ‘truth’ within the topic of the mind when he said ‘I think therefore I am.’ This seems so irrefutably true – none can accurately contest the statement. Yet, as good a starting point as it is, where ...view middle of the document...

The main opposing theory of Dualism is Physicalism – the theory that all that exists is the brain – what ultimately exists is matter, i.e. molecules and atoms, in motion. The Physicalist believes that there is no such thing as a soul, and that previously assumed mental states, such as love or fear, are no more than electro-chemical processes in our brain. ‘We can explain everything about ourselves by looking inside the brain.’ – Susan Greenfield.

There are three types of Physicalism: Behaviourism, the mind-brain identity theory, and Functionalism. Behaviourism is the theory that statement about the mind can be translated into ‘iffy’ statements about dispositions to behave. This is exemplified in Wittgenstein’s analysis of understanding. Understanding, he argues, consists in the ability to perform certain publicly observable actions (such as explaining what you’ve understood to other people, or applying it in new contexts), rather than in any flash of insight that may accompany your understanding; characteristic experiences such as there may or may not occur, but either way they are an optional extra: they are neither necessary or sufficient conditions of what is called understanding. The strength of Behaviourism is that it gets rid of the ambiguity when speaking of the mind, it avoids the problem of the existence of other minds, and most importantly, it doesn’t rely on the unknown. We can relate more to the physical, and speaking of the mental, something to which we don’t understand, seems somewhat meaningless. However, Behaviourism is seen to be an incomplete theory, as although it works well for dispositional concepts such as vanity or being sporty – dispositions we can observe, for the bodily sensations such as pain, this kind of analysis seems wholly implausible. How can pain literally by pain-behaviour?

The mind-brain identity theory, also known as reductive materialism, claims that mental state share identical with physical states of the brain. That is, each type of mental state or process is one and the same as some type of physical state or process in the brain or central nervous system. The theory is illustrated with a series of parallels. Just as light is electromagnetic waves, and sound is a train of compression waves travelling through air, so mind is brain, phenomenal properties are neurological properties. Condensed, it says that mental state sexist, but is physical in nature; they can be ‘reduced’ to brain states.

Hilary Putnam criticised the mind-brain identity theory with her ‘multiple realisation’. She argues that one and the same mental state can have a number of physical embodiments. E.g. the mental state called ‘pain’ may be differently embodied or realised in a human, a chicken, and a Martian. But in that case the mind-body theory is wrong: pain cannot be numerically identical with C-fibre stimulation, indeed the Martian doesn’t even have C-fibres: he might work by hydraulic...

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