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Radicalism

Another way to handle the problem of consciousness is to deny the existence of the phenomena to be explained. Once the phenomenon of consciousness has been denied, the same combination of letters—consciousness—can stand for a new word that means something entirely different. This is the approach of eliminative materialism as exemplified by the Churchlands. They claim we are mistaken about consciousness and intentionality—even about all of psychology. We have folk-psychological theories in our heads, and we ought to scrap them. Dennett reveals the strongest eliminativist colors when he writes that qualia don’t exist. However, consciousness and our ordinary psychological life cannot be eliminated, because they are explananda. Theories that deny them will not work, no matter how clever.

Another way of confronting the shortcomings of the standard functionalist model is to accept them as unproblematic. The functionalist model is seen as covering what essentially goes on in our minds as we think, perceive, and engage in all of the varieties of cognition—information processing. This approach was taken by some researchers in artificial intelligence (AI), especially after Searle presented his Chinese room thought experiment. Some AI supporters agreed that Searle established the nonderivability of semantics from syntax and that syntax was all computers had. But they thought it was OK. The real cognition of cognitive science depended not on meaning but on syntactical information processing. Chalmers and Block take a similar route to comprehend the mind: cognition can be grasped in the standard model, but not all of consciousness can. We get a picture of minds divided—one part syntax, another extrasyntactical. Syntactical cognitive science is valid for any form of cognition, even awareness (as Chalmers redefines it). The only hitch is that it cannot explain experience. Block takes a similar position with access and phenomenal consciousness. Functionalism can explain the former but not the latter. The idea that the standard information-processing model is largely on the right track may seem reassuring. However, one may ask why researchers cling to the standard model despite its problems—not only because of conceptual worries, but also because we have never been able to verify the standard model empirically. The onus is on Chalmers and Block to demonstrate how the brain operates according to the information-processing model they take for granted. Perhaps they could do this with concrete examples. It would be helpful to see an example of how the brain represents a simple memory of having lunch, or how it stores the meaning of a word. The standard model has been speculative since the 1960s and still is. Only a small fraction of researchers in cognitive science have done research on cognition in actual nervous tissue. Kandel is one of them and has elucidated how, on a molecular basis, certain forms of procedural memory work in biological tissue. This work ought to amaze us because it goes beyond vague abstract speculation and provides physical mechanisms.

 
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