The_Rise_and_Fall_of_Computational_Functionalism

The_Rise_and_Fall_of_Computational_Functionalism - 1 The...

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1 The Rise and Fall of Computational Functionalism 1. Introduction Hilary Putnam is the father of computational functionalism, a doctrine he developed in a series of papers beginning with “Minds and machines” (1960) and culminating in “The nature of mental states” (1967b). Enormously influential ever since, it became the received view of the nature of mental states. In recent years, however, there has been growing dissatisfaction with computational functionalism. Putnam himself, having advanced powerful arguments against the very doctrine he had previously championed, is largely responsible for its demise. Today, Putnam has little patience for either computational functionalism or its underlying philosophical agenda. Echoing despair of naturalism, Putnam dismisses computational functionalism as a utopian enterprise. My aim in this article is to present both Putnam’s arguments for computational functionalism, and his later critique of the position. 1 In section 2, I examine the rise of computational functionalism. In section 3, I offer an account of its demise, arguing that it can be attributed to recognition of the gap between the computational-functional aspects of mentality, and its intentional character. This recognition can be traced to two of Putnam’s results: the familiar Twin-Earth argument, and the less familiar theorem that every ordinary physical system implements every finite automaton. I close with implications for cognitive science. 2. The rise of computational functionalism Computational functionalism is the view that mental states and events – pains, beliefs, desires, thoughts and so forth – are computational states of the brain, and so are defined in terms of “computational parameters plus relations to biologically characterized inputs and outputs” (1988: 7). The nature of the mind is independent of the physical making of
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2 the brain: “we could be made of Swiss cheese and it wouldn’t matter” (1975b: 291). 2 What matters is our functional organization: the way in which mental states are causally related to each other, to sensory inputs, and to motor outputs. Stones, trees, carburetors and kidneys do not have minds, not because they are not made out of the right material, but because they do not have the right kind of functional organization. Their functional organization does not appear to be sufficiently complex to render them minds. Yet there could be other thinking creatures, perhaps even made of Swiss cheese, with the appropriate functional organization. The theory of computational functionalism was an immediate success, though several key elements of it were not worked out until much later. For one thing, computational functionalism presented an attractive alternative to the two dominant theories of the time: classical materialism and behaviorism. Classical materialism – the hypothesis that mental states are brain states – was revived in the 1950s by Place (1956), Smart (1959) and Feigl (1958). Behaviorism – the hypothesis that mental states are
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This note was uploaded on 03/25/2010 for the course PHIL PHIL taught by Professor Guy during the Fall '09 term at Concordia Canada.

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The_Rise_and_Fall_of_Computational_Functionalism - 1 The...

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