Desktop version

Home arrow Philosophy arrow The handy philosophy answer book

What is eliminative materialism?

Eliminative materialism is the doctrine, first proposed by Paul Feyerabend (1974-1994) in the early 1960s, that science will eventually make it possible to eliminate all customary talk that presupposes non-material minds in favor of references to brain states only. The Canadian-born American philosopher Paul Churchland (1942-) and his wife, Patricia Churchland (1943-), have developed this view into a distinct branch of philosophy of mind. The Churchlands have held that our ordinary common sense theory of mind—consisting of intentions, desires, and motives—is mere "folk psychology," which, like other "folk beliefs," ought to be put aside in intellectual and scientific endeavors. Churchland wrote:

Eliminative materialism is the thesis that our commonsense conception of psychological phenomena constitutes a radically false theory, a theory so fundamentally defective that both the principles and the ontology of that theory will eventually be displaced, rather than smoothly reduced, by completed neuroscience.

Principal publications by Paul Churchland include Scientific Realism and the Plasticity of Mind (1979), "Eliminative Materialism and the Propositional Attitudes" (published in the Journal of Philosophy in 1981), and The Engine of Reason, the Seat of the Soul (1996); both Paul and Patricia penned On the Contrary (1998).

How do the Churchlands account for perceptions of meaning?

Meaning is fixed by networks of association. Ultimately, meaning will be replaced by connectionist networks with activation along "preferred vectors." Sameness of meaning is no more than a sameness of patterns. In the library of the future, there will be "plugs" for directly activating relevant brain states and patterns, bypassing the need to transmit meanings via language as we now know it.

Who was Alan Mathison Turing?

Alan Mathison Turing (1912-1954) was a British cryptologist and mathematician who is credited with founding modern computer science. His Turing Machine, which was an extensive thought experiment, formalized the concepts of algorithms and computation. The Turing Machine consists of a possibly infinite paper tape with a stream of binary symbols that is continually scanned by a "read-write" device moving left or right and erasing or writing symbols on the tape, according to a program.

Turing showed that any such machine could be programmed to simulate any other one, meaning that it was a "universal machine." This universal machine could implement every known mathematical method. He extended this model to machines that cannot be simulated by a universal Turing machine, called Oracle machines. Turing proposed that intellectual activity can be understood as networks of universal and non-universal machines that can learn, through "training," to become something like universal machines.

After the invention of actual electronic computers, Turing suggested that theories of "artificial intelligence" could be tested. If there were a computer that could perform the same calculations as a human being—to the point where a human being could not tell whether the results were produced by the computer or by another human being—then there could theoretically exist artificial intelligence. Turing's 1950 article in Mind, "Can Machines Think?," continues to be

Alan Turing was a British cryptologist and mathematician who is credited with founding modern computer science (Art Archive).

Alan Turing was a British cryptologist and mathematician who is credited with founding modern computer science (Art Archive).

What was John Searle's "Chinese Room Argument"?

In his The Rediscovery of the Mind (1992), Searle supposed that a person who understands no Chinese is locked in a room with Chinese symbols and an algorithm or computer program that can be used to automatically answer questions in Chinese. The answers are good enough to be indistinguishable from answers by a Chinese speaker. Searle insists that what is missing from this picture, which is the overall computational theory of the mind in contemporary philosophy, is understanding—the person in the room does not understand Chinese!

Adherents to a computational theory of mind, in response to Searle's position, would probably claim that unless we go back to a mysterious "ghost in the machine," the behavior of the person locked in the room is exactly what is meant by "understanding Chinese."

As to who is right in this argument, no one knows for sure. As Jerry Fodor (1935-) noted, "we," meaning philosophers of mind, do not yet have an adequate theory of mind. If you think you do, then try explaining exactly how your desire to raise your right arm results in that arm going up.

highly influential in philosophy of mind discussions, in part as a result of John Sear-le's (1932-) treatment of it.

How did John Searle disagree with Alan Mathison Turing?

The American philosopher John Searle (1932-), a professor at the University of California at Berkeley since 1959, has described his own work as an attempt to reconcile the world of science with the human self-conception of mindful animals with free will. In his Intentionality: An Essay on the Philosophy of Mind (1983), Searle argued that mental states are both caused by and realized in neurobiological brain processes. He called this view "biological naturalism."

In his Chinese room argument, he attempted to refute a broad Turing-inspired Strong Artificial Intelligence view that mind could be duplicated by the right computational device. Additional works by Searle, which advocate the nonreductionality of consciousness, while also acknowledging contemporary science, are: Expression and Meaning: Studies in the Theory of Speech Acts (1979), The Rediscovery of the Mind (1992), The Mystery of Consciousness (1997), and Mind: A Brief Introduction (2004).

 
Found a mistake? Please highlight the word and press Shift + Enter  
< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >

Related topics