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Paul and Patricia Churchland


  • 4. Is folk psychology a theory? Take the folk-psychological law “people who suffer bodily damage generally feel pain.” From this, we deduce that someone who has bodily damage is in pain. But if someone has bodily damage—say, a kid with a scraped knee after a bicycle accident—we don’t have to make an inference to know that the kid is in pain; we simply see it. We take in whole situations and directly see them in a wide variety of aspects. How might the Churchlands respond to this criticism?
  • 5. If folk psychology is theoretical, then what is not theoretical? If we reason theoretically about kids who have fallen off bicycles, then in what cases don’t we apply theories? What is the distinction between the theoretical and nontheoretical when it comes to human cognition? When you go and check the dryer, are you applying a theory of drying machines? When you stop to tie your shoelaces, are you applying the tacit rules “untied shoes can be a safety hazard” and “safety hazards ought to be avoided”? It is possible to describe everything we do in terms of rules, but that does not mean our actions or thoughts are rule driven. How might the Churchlands respond to this criticism?
  • 6. Is eliminative materialism coherent? If there is such a thing as folk psychology as the Churchlands characterize it, then it is also the ground—the instrument— of their argumentation. So if they believe that folk psychology is false, then— since beliefs are part of folk psychology—it looks like that very belief is also false; it looks as if they are falsifying their belief that folk psychology is false. Is this a serious problem for eliminative materialism, or not?
  • 7. The Churchlands suggest that if folk-psychological entities cannot be smoothly reduced to neuroscientific entities, we have proven that folk psychology is false and that its entities do not exist. Searle notes, however, that there are many physical entities, such as station wagons, that cannot be smoothly reduced to entities of theoretical physics but nevertheless exist. How might the Churchlands respond?
  • 8. If we take an eliminative stance on psychology, then psychology cannot inform neuroscience, because psychology is false. But suppose a psychologist argues that neuroscience would be fatally impoverished without psychology. Psychology guides neuroscience by refining and empirically validating concepts of learning, memory, sleep and dreaming, social cognition, and many others, so their physical correlates can be investigated using neuroscientific methods in experimental setups (relying on functional magnetic resonance imaging [fMRI], EEG, deep-brain stimulation, neural cell recordings, and so on). It is no exaggeration to say there is currently an explosion of studies investigating brain structures in relation to psychological concepts. How should we think about the relation between psychology and neuroscience?
  • 9. Suppose a neurobiologist trying to find neural correlates of consciousness came across the Churchlands’ writings on brain kinematics and recursive neural networks. Suppose that neurobiologist said, “These philosophers don’t talk about anything we don’t know. Of course the neural brain can be thought of as processing information in networks. In a sense, it is one network of neurons—one vector, matrix, or whatever you want to call it. But it is the biological nature of this network that is important for consciousness, not this business of abstractly described vector kinematics. Moreover, there is also the other brain—the glial brain with cells that don’t communicate in neural networks in the way the Churchlands suggest. In the end, the Churchlands don’t tell us anything we don’t know, and their account neglects the actual biology and how it causes consciousness.” How might the Churchlands respond?
  • 10. The Churchlands suggest that it might be possible to transfer information between brains and new kinds of libraries through artificial commissure-like hookups. How plausible is this picture if we consider that neuroscience has, as yet, failed to demonstrate how information is stored in the brain?
  • 11. Paul Churchland lists seven features of consciousness. How representative are they? Can you think of other features? What top three features would you include in your list?
  • 12. Paul Churchland aims to demonstrate how seven features of consciousness can be implemented computationally to vindicate his recursive neural network model. What would be the criteria of success here? How would we know that his computational model of consciousness has succeeded? Is it an empirical model? If so, what empirical facts would prove it right or wrong?
  • 13. In response to Leibniz’s analogy of the mill, Paul Churchland suggest that “it remains possible, even granting Leibniz’s story, that the taste sensation of a peach is identical with a four-element activation vector in the gustatory pathways” (Churchland 1995, p. 133). How might someone argue against this line of identity theory? How might Paul defend his position?
  • 14. Suppose engineers build an electronic version of a human brain. They do this by monitoring and collecting neural firing pattern data, and then they construct and train an artificial network made out of silicon so its firing patterns become identical to the original human brain. They say that the vector transformations going on in their artificial brains mimic those of biological brains perfectly. The engineers then try to convince the medical industry to start using their networks for brain tissue replacements. They back up their work by referring to the Churchlands’ ideas about the central role of vector transformations in the brain. How would you respond to the engineers? Are they on the right track? How might the Churchlands respond?
  • 15. How can a formal account explain consciousness? The account of the mind in terms of vector processing in parallel recursive networks does not depend on biology. The beauty of this is that researchers can explore computational neuroscience in artificial hardware. Perhaps we can solve the problem of consciousness by building a vector-processing machine that is conscious. But what is the relation between computations and consciousness? How could we explain consciousness in terms of computations? How can we tackle the hard problem of consciousness?

  • [1] What do eliminative materialists seek to eliminate? How do they motivate theelimination? What would they replace folk psychology with? What do they seeas important benefits of this replacement? 2. What would it be like to be a true eliminative materialist? Would it be possibleto live life without ever using ordinary psychological terms? What would socialrelationships, literary works, and movies be like without such terms? 3. Suppose aliens with great intelligence could predict and control human behavior by relying on their understanding of physics. They would have the kind ofknowledge of human brain processes that eliminative materialists seek. Butcould they be said to understand humans without grasping human psychol-ogy—what the Churchlands call folk psychology?
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