Mind as the Mirror of Nature

Mind as the mirror of nature
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  Mind as the Mirror of Nature:Fred Dretske on Naturalizing the MindDavid Cole 1996University of Minnesota, DuluthDescartes held that if you use your mental faculties as youshould, your mind will form an accurate representation of reality. FredDretske holds much the same. But unlike Descartes, Dretske doesnít appealto God, nor to reigning in oneís infinite will, to get things right. Andunlike Descartes, Dretske works from the outside in. The world createsminds in the world's image. Dretskeís Naturalizing the Mind sets out the case for holding that mental states in general are natural representers of reality. Mental states have functions; for many states the function is to indicate what is going on in the world. Among such indicator states are beliefs. The content of these states is given by what they are supposed to represent. So if a state is supposed to indicate that itís dark, then ìitís darkî is the content of the state. Thus we can characterize how the organism takes things to be, its subjectivity, by noting first what physical (neural) state it is in, and second what the biological indicator function of that state is. Thus the mind and meaning are naturalized. This account is strongly externalistic. The content of a mental state is determined not by the internal organization of the mind, but by the cause of the connections of the state to external affairs. A token mental state has an occurent cause, something that is causing the organism to be in that state now. But there are also historical causes that make that type of state be the one the organism goes into when its sense organs are stimulated a certain way. For example, the currentdarkness causes the organism to go into a certain internal state. And evolution brings it about that darkness causes the organism to go into states of that type. Learning can also play the same sort of structuring role as evolution, namely that of recruiting a specific  state to be the indicator of some state of affairs. The history of theorganism causes it to now respond internally in certain ways topresent stimuli. Externalism as an account of linguistic meaning and of the content of belief is not new: it is supported in one form or another by Fodor, Millikan, Kripke, and others. The most interesting development in Naturalizing the Mind is the extension of this externalism to non-propositional and non-conceptual mental content, namely the content of subjective sensory states, or qualia. Dretske holds that if one is an externalist with regard to propositional content, as one should be, one should also be an externalist with regard to sensations and qualia. This strong externalism will be my concern in this paper.This approach is of course quite different from Descartesí internalism. For Descartes, mental states have intrinsic properties that can be known apart from any knowledge of their connection with any external states of affairs, present or in the past. My thoughts, including mental images, intrinsically represent the world as being one way or another. My sensory states are very much like paintings or photos, on this view: they have intrinsic color and shape properties. The main epistemic question is whether they correctly represent anything, that is, whether there are things out in the world that share the properties of my mental representations: the colors, the shapes, etc.Among contemporary authors, John Searle seems to take a similarly internal line on mental content, or as he calls it, ìintrinsic intentionalityî. One knows oneís own mind. Other authors, such as Paul Churchland, take the view that mental content is determined by internal relational properties of the possible states of a neural net. In quite different ways, these authors, like Descartes and the Way of Ideas that followed him, stand opposed to the externalism that Dretske represents.The Cartesian/Lockean view that the mind represents the world through resemblance is hopeless, as Berkeley points out at length. It seems impossible to maintain that mental representations represent by  sharing properties with their objects of representation. The externalist account has the advantage that the properties of the representing system can be totally unlike the represented. All that is required is that there be a history that makes it the case that there is a normal representational response to a state in the world. So a neural state can represent say a smell, though the two share almost no properties. The externalist view also does away with the seemingly inexplicable gap (Levine 1983) between the physical state of the brain and the subjective state. It does seem hopeless to try to understand how this particular pattern of neural activity could have the subjective feel of say the scent of a rose. What about neuron firings could create qualia? But on Dretskeís account, that is not the problem. The subjective feel is not produced by any present property of neural activity, it is determined by what the neural state is supposed to represent (namely rose scent). That representational content is not created by events inside the head. Since representational properties are the product of causal history, in fact, a history that determines that my neural system goes in that particular pattern of activity in the presence of roses, the gap disappears. At least on paper.The externalist account then has clear theoretical virtues. But I hope it will not come as a surprise that I wish to dwell upon certain counterintuitive aspects of the approach. The two main problems I will discuss are thought experiments centered on the inverted spectrum and swampmen, and some related issues.SWAMPMEN and FunctionSwampmen first. A swampman is a creature that materializes as a result of random molecular activity of the gases and liquids in a swamp. Abiogenesis. Unlikely, but a real if remote physical possibility. Now among possible swampmen, some are structurally identical to me and some to you. That is, it is theoretically possible that SwampDave come into being, and be absolutely physically identical to me, down to the current  momentum of each subatomic particle. But SwampDave does not have my history and since he is not copied from me, he does not benefit from any properties that my history bestows upon me.On the Dretske/millikan historical accounts, those benefits are enormous. It is solely in virtue of my history that any of my mental states have the content that they do (and indeed, any content at all). So SwampDave does not have my beliefs, even though he is physically identical to me -- and even though some form of physicalism is the correct theory of the relation of the mental and the physical. Finally, this difference pervades even qualia: although SwampDave might be in exactly the same brain state as I am when I taste strong hot coffee, he does not have a sensation of heat nor of the smell of coffee. On Dretskeís account, my sensory representation content is determined by my biological history. Namely, I am in certain states which are genetically determined to be produced by the presence of certain chemicals in my environment, because it was adaptive to have such representational capacity. SwampDave has no such qualia conferring pedigree.It could be that this is correct. But my intuitions are strongly otherwise. The question of course is whether the intuitions should be acceded to, or should be dismissed in view of the theoretical advantages of the externalist approach. Dretske of course advocates the latter (he discusses Swampmen at length in chapter 5).One basis for my own intuition, I think, is in fact Cartesian. I reflect that I could be in my present sensory state while there was no world to be represented. Or I reflect, along with Russell, that it is an epistemic possibility that the world came into being five minutes ago with everything in its place -- perhaps we are all SwampMen, and the world swamp is a SwampSwamp. I donít believe I am this recent, but it seems to be possible that I am; I canít know with certainty that I am not SwampDave. Dretskeís response to these intuitions might hit at two points. One would be that this is not an epistemic possibility. Afterall, in epistemology there are externalist theories as well, reliabilism, for example. So if my belief that I am not a SwampMan is based upon


Jul 23, 2017
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