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An Interactionalist Theory of Mind


A response to the issue raised by the China Brain thought experiment

There is a well known thought experiment in the philosophy of mind that considers the validity of functionalism, the China Brain (CB) experiment. In this thought experiment, each Chinese person simulates a neuron in the brain, and the experiment assumes that it is possible for all Chinese people to create a perfect representation of the brain. If functionalism is correct, then this simulation should create mental states, creating a mind and, potentially, a consciousness.

There are at least two problems with this thought experiment. First of all, simply mimicking the shape of mental states on a large scale disregards the effects of scale on the realizability of mental states. Just because a pattern of mental states is realized on the scale of the brain, it does not follow that (1) the same pattern is capable of realizing and manifesting a mental state on a large scale, (2) specially in the same manner as the mental states of the brain scale. This is a very subtle form of a fallacy of composition. I will adress those two issues, suggest a thought experiment that would successfully reproduce mental states and discuss the implications by introducing an interactionalist alternative.

The assumption that the CB thought experiment makes is that mental states, as we perceive and define them, can be realized on a large scale. This assumption is false because it disregards the potential effects of scale. Obviously, the exact same patterns of interaction that realize the manifestation of mental states will not realize mental states on a large scale. Functionalism fails to take into account exactly how multiple realization takes place. The mechanism of multiple realization is the patterns of interaction that govern the manifestation and function of systems. I will go more into detail on that later when I discuss the relationship between Identity Theory and Functionalism.

The experiment also assumes that the mental states of the CB scale would be realized in the same manner that the mental states of the brain scale are realized. This, again, is an assumption that disregards the effects of scale. Suppose the CB experiment successfully translated the patterns of interaction of the brain on the required scale. Even if it successfully did so, it would not create the same manifestation of mental states that the brain creates. Instead, it would create a different level of consciousness which is manifested at a cultural level. The patterns of interaction in the brain are analogous to the patterns of interaction on a cultural level but are manifested in a different way based on the point of view of the observer. On a social level, we would perceive it as a cultural manifestation, but for a being with a larger form of consciousness, the manifestation would be perceived as a higher level of consciousness which we ourselves cannot comprehend.

The Collective Consciousness of Cells

Suppose, for instance, another thought experiment. One could argue that our consciousness is the manifestation of the collective consciousness of our cells. If you touch your body, you can feel it. Your cells are able to perceive the interaction between your hand and your body. In this sense, it is clear that our cells are able to perceive, though we ourselves perceive it as touch. Our thought processes would, then, be the manifestation of the collective consciousness of all our cells. The collective consciousness of our cells is realized through the brain. Of course, if a cell would start communicating with another and say "hey, we are actually part of a larger consciousness which we have no access to or are able to comprehend", another cell would reply "you are clearly insane with your higher consciousness mumbo jumbo". However, the level of consciousness of individual cells is so low that they are not even able to communicate in this manner, they are only able to communicate through the brain. Thus, while the brain is the manifestation of the consciousness of all the cells of which its body is composed, it is unable to remember that it is the realization of the collective consciousness of all the cells.

The difference between the CB thought experiment and the Collective Consciousness of Cells thought experiment is that the C3 experiment takes composition into account, thus allowing for the proper realization of the functional patterns. It recognizes that the manifestation of a larger consciousness follows the same functional patterns of a smaller conciousness but is different in nature than the smaller consciousness due to their compositional differences.

Function, Identity and Interaction

We can conclude from above that there is a clear connection between form and function, which universal interactionalism addresses. Patterns of forms will create analogous patterns of function, but the physical manifestation of those functional patterns will be relative to the properties of its physical components and their context in the space-size-time-force continuum. While the patterns of function are preserved at different levels of the continuum, the physical manifestation of those patterns will be different and, thus, the perception of the functions will also be different. It is only the patterns of interaction between systems that is preserved given different levels of the continumm, their physical manifestation changes to account for the physical requirements of the manifestation of the function. This is why there is multiple realizability, because different physical patterns are sometimes required in order to perform the same functional patterns in different contexts.

Multiple realizability is not accidental but a function of its context. Let's use a pen as an example. It is not accidental that some pens will be made of metal while others made of plastic, nor is it accidental that some pens will have a cap mechanism whereas others will have a twisting mechanism. The properties of the pen will influence and be influenced by its functions. Thus, an evolution of pens and a taxonomy and ecosystem of pens will result from the combination of different properties and functions.

While the functional patterns of different systems can be the same, the functions are multiply realized based on the properties of the composition of the systems. Thus, two systems with different composition but same functions will be physically manifested in different ways. In other words, the manifestation of the same functions are multiply realized relative to their compositional identity.

The conclusion, which is the basis of the Interactionalist Theory, is that both function and identity are relevant and they are both a factor of the patterns of interaction that govern the universe and manifests reality as we perceive it. It is not the function of systems that determine the relationship of brain states and mental states, nor is the composition of systems. Both form and function influence the manifestation of reality through the fundamental laws of interaction.

#consciousness #philosophy

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© 2015 by Nelson Guedes

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