Re: Dreaming On

From: Brent Meeker <>
Date: Wed, 26 Aug 2009 08:58:59 -0700

Stathis Papaioannou wrote:
> 2009/8/26 David Nyman <>:
>> On 25 Aug, 14:32, Stathis Papaioannou <> wrote:
>>> Let's say the alien brain in its initial environment produced a
>>> certain output when it was presented with a certain input, such as a
>>> red light. The reconstructed brain is in a different environment and
>>> is presented with a blue light instead of a red light. To deal with
>>> this, you alter the brain's configuration so that it produces the same
>>> output with the blue light that it would have produced with the red
>>> light.
>> In terms of our discussion on the indispensability of an
>> interpretative context for assigning meaning to 'raw data', I'm not
>> sure exactly how much you're presupposing when you say that "you alter
>> the brain's configuration". You have a bunch of relational data
>> purporting to correspond to the existing configuration of the alien's
>> brain and its relation to its environment. This is available to you
>> solely in terms of your interpretation, on the basis of which you
>> attempt to come up with a theory that correlates the observed 'inputs'
>> and 'outputs' (assuming these can be unambiguously isolated). But how
>> would you know that you had arrived at a successful theory of the
>> alien's experience? Even if you somehow succeeded in observing
>> consistent correlations between inputs and outputs, how could you ever
>> be sure what this 'means' for the alien brain?
> With the example of the light, you alter the photoreceptors in the
> retina so that they respond the same way when to a blue light that
> they would have when exposed to a red light. Photoreceptors are
> neurons and synapse with other neurons, further up the pathway of
> visual perception. The alien will compare his perception of the blue
> sky of Earth with his memory of the red sky of his home planet and
> declare it looks the same. Now it is possible that it doesn't look the
> same and he only thinks it looks the same, but the same could be said
> of ordinary life: perhaps yesterday the sky looked green, and today
> that it looks blue we only think it looks the same because we are
> deluded.
>> I would say that in effect what you have posed here is 'the problem of
>> other minds', and that consequently a 'successful' theory wouldn't be
>> very distant from the belief that the alien was, in effect, human, or
>> alternatively that you were, in effect, alien. And, mutatis
>> mutandis, I guess this would apply to rocks too.
> I think what I have proposed is consistent with functionalism, which
> may or may not be true. A functionally identical system produces the
> same outputs for the same inputs, and functionalism says that
> therefore it will also have the same experiences, such as they may be.
> But what those experiences are like cannot be known unless you are the
> system, or perhaps understand it so well that you can effectively run
> it in your head.

Does functionalism mean nothing more than if the same inputs produce
the same outputs then the experience will be the same? I think this
is to simplistic. To reduce it to a really simple example, suppose
your brain functions so that:

You look at sky.
Blue detectors fire.
You say, "Blue".

Now the doctor replaces some neurons so that

You look at sky.
Blue detectors fire.
The blue detectors excite frabjous detectors.
Frabjous detectors fire
You say, "Blue".

Is your experience the same? Do you experience "frabjous"? If you
put "melody" for "frabjous", you've got synsathesia. I'd say that
functional equivalence is relative to the level. At *some* level
equal-input-output=>equal-experience, but not at higher levels.

What about lower levels? Surely it doesn't matter whether 10,000 K+
cross the axon membrane or 10,001 cross. So somehow looking at just
the right level matters in the hypothesis of functionalism. Maybe
that level corresponds to the level at which the organism acts; the
functions evolved to support and direct actions. Rocks don't act so
they don't have any functional level.


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Received on Wed Aug 26 2009 - 08:58:59 PDT

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