Philosophy of Mind Research Paper

Part 1.

Fred Dretske uses information-theoretic approach to semantics. His theory explains how physical things possess the ability to represent. The theory is based on the assumption that physical entities are able to occupy states, which are connected with physical world. He uses contentful mental states for explaining human behaviour. According to his theory, the content of mental states is responsible for human behaviour. Dretske uses indicators and representations. He states that representation is an indication, which is attributed to some subject. Representation is a function to indicate X, choosing it from many things, which could have been indicated. Only indicators, which have a function of indicating some condition of the world, may become representations. This can be explained by the fact that mere indicators do not possess the ability to misinterpret. “An indicator is given its indicator function by being converted into a switch for behaviour.” (Dretske, 88) According to Dretske recruitment is responsible for turning an indication into representation. For example, a cat hears a sound when the food is put in its place and it distinguishes this sound from many other sounds. When some internal mechanisms make the cat distinguish this sound from many others the cat has representation of this sound.

Dretske himself defines two charges, which threaten indicator semantics. He calls this charges distality and disjunction. Distalilty problem deals with defining what is identified by indicators.

Disjunction problem deals with time continuum. Indication is switched to representation under condition that indicator is saved in the memory correctly and it does not change its value in the external world. For example, once having learnt the word cow we use it for representation of all cows. Till conditions do not change our representation will be correct, but as external conditions change, we will meet a problem. If we turn to example with cat, who hears the sound of found when it is put in the place. If we put small stone on the same place the sound will be indicated in a same way as it would have happened with food and it will have the same representation value as food did. Dretske puts much effort to explain possible difficulties, which arise when applying his theory, and I believe his arguments to be quite convincing.

Part 2.

Dennett rejects this thesis and gives his alternative interpretation. He developed his own “multiple drafts” model of consciousness. Dennett denies the Cartesian Theater of the Mind. Dennett used the term Cartesian Theater to underline a defining aspect of Cartesian materialism, which is often used in materialistic theories of mind. Dennett states that: “Cartesian materialism is the view that there is a crucial finish line or boundary somewhere in the brain, marking a place where the order of arrival equals the order of “presentation” in experience because what happens there is what you are conscious of. […] the persuasive imagery of the Cartesian Theater keeps coming back to haunt us — laypeople and scientists alike — even after its ghostly dualism has been denounced and exorcized.” (Dennett, p.107)

According to this theory all the perceptions come to the consciousness all together and in this way form a single mind. His theory of “Multiple Drafts” assumes that his perceptions are not joined together and pass through the brain separately in the form of drafts or possibilities. The mind derives from the combination of these drafts. (Dennett, 1991)

The data about the split brain causing double consciousness he explains by the damage of the links between left and right hemispheres the patients get during the treatment (Dennett, 1991). During the treatment of some mental diseases, epilepsy, for example, the hemispheres lose wires of interaction between them and this finally causes the split. “There are more than a few anecdotes about such ingenious jury-rigs invented on the spot by patients with split brains, but we should treat them with caution. They might be what they appear to be: cases exhibiting the deftness with which the brain can discover and implement autostimulatory strategies to improve its internal communications in the absence of the ‘desired’ wiring. But they might also be the unwittingly embroidered fantasies of researchers hoping for just such evidence.”(Dennett, 198) Dennett states that the center of consciousness found in the right hemisphere of some patients appears there only after the operations when ties between two hemispheres are damaged and that disconnected right hemisphere possesses nothing but a transitory consciousness. At the same time he states that the conciseness, which appears in the right hemisphere, is identical to the consciousness of the left one. (Dennett, 1991) In this case both hemispheres must have a transitional consciousness but the experiments show that they don not (Gazzaniga, 1970; Bogen, 1985) Dennett rejects double consciousness theory, as he states “not because ‘consciousness is only in the left hemisphere’ and not because it could not be the case that someone found himself or herself in such a pickle, but simply because it is not the case that commissurotomy leaves in its wake organizations both distinct and robust enough to support such a separate self (Dennett, 426).

Speaking about mistakes in perception Orwellian and Stalinesque give different explanations of this phenomenon. Orwellian explains mistakes in recall by interference, while Stalinesque states that they occur during perception. Orwellian states that all the mistakes appear after the object is saved in the memory. He believes that perception is always right and makes an exact reflection of reality but, as soon as the process of perception is finished and information is saved as a memory past experience can interfere with these memories and change them. That is the reason a person does not recollect things right. Stalinesque presents another point of view on the subject. He believes that mistakes occur during the very process of perception. He states that information is perceived inaccurately and later inaccurate memories are saved. There are some problems with both approaches. In Orwellian’s case it is difficult to distinguish a type when memories are changed to the wrong ones. When it comes to Stalinesque, the question makes us wonder about the reasons of wrong perception.

Dennett rejects the mind to be a countable thing and calls it a mere abstraction. On the other hand, there are cases, when people survived having only one left hemisphere functioning. If to follow Dennett’s theory, these people would not have mind at all, but researchs show that they do have mind. In addition, Dennett’s theory of “Multiple Drafts” can not give reasonable explanations of different kinds of dissociation of consciousness. This happens because the theory does not make any distinction between real and apparent streams of consciousness.

Part 3.

There are several theories, which explain the origin of our mental states content. One group of scholars states that content of the mental states depends on the experience a person gets being alone, i.e. this content does not belong to the environment. Other group of scientists believes that external factors partially influence the content of our mental states. The last theory got the name externalism. Tyler Burge, one of the main proponents of this theory stresses an important role of the environment of the content of human mental state. As he states, “individuating many of a person or animal’s mental kinds… is necessarily dependent on relations that the person bears to the physical, or in some cases social, environment” (Burge 1988, 650).

This view also favors anti-individualism, Burge insisted on this notion because he was preoccupied with the sources of individuation of content rather than with the location of the content. Burge uses hypothetical example in order to support his thesis. He bases his examples on the thought experiment about the Twin Earth initiated by Hilary Putnam. Inspired by Putnam’s thought experiences, Burge gives hypothetical examples about arthritis and Twin Earth in order to support his thesis. In the example with arthritis Burge concludes that content of the mind depends on conventional meanings, which are determined by linguistic community. An example with the Twin Mind proves that thought depends on physical environment. Burge’s anti-individualism has provokes loud disputes among scientists. Some adherents of externalism reject the existence of a priory knowledge. They believe that content of human mind can be achieved only through the interaction with the environment. “For example, to know whether we are having water thoughts or twater (twin-earth “water”) thoughts we may have to conduct an investigation into the chemical composition of the stuff we call ‘water’.” (Ludlow, 89)In this case we cannot count on a priory knowledge any more.

A number of scholars argue Burge’s views. For example, McKinsey believes that externalism can undermine authoritative knowledge of people about their thought content. Fodor states that Burge’s theory does not explain the way in which mental states cause behavior. (Fodor, 1991) In his response to the proponents, Burge states that he does not see any controversy with anti-individualism and ability to know the content of our mental states.

There are several possible solutions for this dilemma, which do not reject the theory of externalism. In the first case scholars reject the very concept of a priori self-knowledge and believe that self-knowledge is only a part of empirical investigation. According to this view, argued for example by Norah Martin, knowledge of our mental states may be partial, and may be in error at times, but we are nevertheless in a kind of privileged relation towards our mental states because we are usually in a better position than others to investigate our own mental states.

(Ludlow, 116) Another group of scientists states that in reality there is no controversy between self-knowledge and externalism. They state that these two notions supplement each other. Davidson, Burge and Heil share such position. (Bure, Davidson, Hail) They all believe that second-order thought content is already fixed on the environment. For example, when the person thinks that he thinks that the water is wet, he already thinks about the type of water he has in his environment.

The group of authors, who do not agree with explanations given by the followers of compatibility, challenge their explanations. Boghossian, for example, argues that slow-switching can be a good reason again computability of self-knowledge and extremism. Slow-switching is described like a phenomenon, when agent’s environment is switched without his knowing about it. Finally, new environment challenges ideas about the environment, which agent had before. Using Burge’s example, we can talk about fiction scenario when a person is moved to Twin-Earth without knowing about it.

Without knowing about the change of the environment a person will think about the environment as about one he used to know. Only after some time his thought about water will be replaced by the thought about twater. In this case we can talk about slow-switching. Ludlow restricts this example by talking not only about fiction scenarios but also using examples from our everyday life. For example when a person knows certain meaning of a certain word he will most probably use and understand the word in this very meaning until some time passes and he starts using the meaning, which the word has in his new environment. To see this, just consider the case of someone who defers to his language community for the individuating conditions of the word ‘chickory’ and who moves from England to the United States without realizing that ‘chickory’ has a different meaning in those two locations. Then, as the agent continues to defer to his immediate language community, the content of the term ‘chickory’ will shift. (Ludlow, 119) The phenomenon of slow-switching is used in order to undermine compitability of self-knowledge and externalism. As states Boghossian, “Burge’s self- verifying judgments do not constitute genuine knowledge. hat other reason is there for why our slowly transported thinker will not know tomorrow what he is said to know directly and authoritatively today?” (Boghossian, p.44 ). Externalism is an interesting view on the nature of the content of our mind. Burge and those, who share his position, give some convincing arguments to support their thesis. On the other hand, controversy, which arises if we apply Burge’s anti-individualism to all kinds of content of the mind, shows that this theory has some weak points. I believe that environment has an important role in forming the content of our mind but I do not think it to be the only source of this content.

1. Burge, Tyler. “Individualism and the Mental”,
Midwest Studies in Philosophy 4:73-122, 1979.
2. Burge, Tyler. “Individualism and Self-Knowledge”, Journal of Philosophy 85:649-63, 1988.
3. Dennett, C. Daniel. Consciousness Explained, Little, Brown & Co. USA, 1991
4. Dretske, Fred. Knowledge and the Flow of Information, Cambridge, MA:MIT Press, 1981.
Dretske, Fred. “Misrepresentation” in Belief: Form, Content, and Function, R. Bogdan (ed.), Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986.
5. Heil, John. “Privileged Access”, Mind, 1988.
6. Ludlow, Peter. “Externalism, Self-Knowledge, and the
Prevalence of Slow-Switching.” Analysis, Jan. 1995.
Boghossian, Paul. “Content and Self-Knowledge”,
Philosophical Topics. 17:5-26, 1989.
7. Putnam, Hilary. The Meaning of meaning. Gunderson
(ed.), Language, Mind and Knowledge. Vol. 7, Minnesota

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