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Mind Without Intentionality

An AI researcher might claim that we can explain the mind without intentionality. Perhaps the essential feature of cognition is a kind of information processing separable from intentionality and consciousness. In this view, the brain and computer perform semantics-free information processing (in Shannon’s sense) and the problem of intentionality becomes a moot issue. However, as Searle points out, according to standard textbook definitions of computation, it is possible to think of anything as a computer (Searle 1992, p. 208). A dropped stone computes the shortest path to the ground. A brick wall can be thought of as instantiating the Deep Blue program that beat Kasparov in chess, and an even larger brick wall could be seen as implementing the neuronal processing patterns of a brain. It is a matter of finding an appropriate scheme of interpretation. We may think of our universe as a computer that, since the Big Bang, has continuously computed its next state. All of these examples are possible, given that the notion of a computer is not defined physically.

What could count as a computer is observer relative in the following way. If I find a stone, I might assign it the function of a paperweight or I might think of it as a good skipping stone—those are what Searle calls observer-relative features (Searle 1992, p. xii). However, I cannot assign its chemical composition, mass, or density, because that is not up to me—those are intrinsic features, belonging to the stone. I can also see my stone as a two-state computing device. If the stone is upright, it represents a 1, whereas if it is tipped over, it represents a 0. This computing capability is observer relative. I assign this feature to the stone. But if the notion of a computing device is observer relative, then it is unclear how computer functionalism would distinguish what is mental from what is not. Computer functionalism allows for everything in the universe to be mental.

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