Lecture 3                                                                                           

Dr. Ron Mallon                                                            Philosophy of Cognitive Science


1.  Last time we introduced functionalism: the view that to be in a mental state is to be in a state that plays a certain causal role.


2.  A causal role can be specified as an input-output relation.  For example, a ‘pain’ is just the sort of mental state one feels when one receives some characteristic inputs (e.g. a kick in the shin), and it has some characteristic outputs (e.g. wincing and hurting). 


3.  What functions ?  Some functions are implied in everyday psychological terms like ‘pain’, ‘belief’, ‘desire’ and so on.  Perhaps there are other terms that are revealed by psychological investigation. 


4.  What is it to have a function?  A popular idea in cognitive science is that a function can be specified in a quite specific way, for example, by a machine table.  Such a table gives a precise specification of a computer relating inputs to outputs.  This is so-called ‘machine functionalism’.  The trick is, then, to understand human cognition and behavior in this mathematical way.


5. “Anything whose behavior fits a machine table is a functional system” (Sterelny 8).  One subject that has occupied theoretical cognitive scientists is what it means to ‘fit a machine table’.  Is it sufficient that the inputs and outputs of a system are isomorphic with those of a machine table?  Or must the internal states of the system also be isomorphic to the transitional states specified in the machine table?

    Cognitive scientists sometimes think of the mind as one a ‘black box.’  We can observe input and output, but we cannot see inside the box.  Still, we can try to infer the presence of other ‘boxes’ inside the box- i.e. other functionally individuated portions of the mind.


6.  Problem of Liberalism: Many cognitive scientists came to believe that functionalism is too weak to be a foundational theory for cognitive science.  This is because, in principle, any physical system could realize a mathematical function.  If the Brazilian economy, or the atoms in a wall, happened to realize the particular mathematical function in question, functionalism entails that they would be a thinking thing.


7.  Kim Sterelny holds the view that a functional system is more than just any old collection of causally interrelated activities.  According to him, a functional system is a system with a design.  This is a teleological view of functionalism.




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