Introduction to Cognitive Science
Computational Theories of Consciousness

What Is the Mind?

Last Update: Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Note: NEW or UPDATED material is highlighted



  1. What Is Philosophy?


  2. On the Mind-Body (or Mind-Brain) Problem

    1. Mind-Body Theories (cartoon)

    2. Bechtel, William (1988), Philosophy of Mind: An Overview for Cognitive Science (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates).
      • LOCKWOOD Book Collection B105.M55 B43 1988

    3. Colburn, Timothy R. (2000), Philosophy and Computer Science (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe):

      • Ch. 3 ("AI and the History of Philosophy"), pp. 19-40.
      • Ch. 4 ("AI and the Rise of Contemporary Science and Philosophy"), pp. 41-50.


  3. On eliminativism:

    1. Rorty, Richard (1965), "Mind-Body Identity, Privacy, and Categories", Review of Metaphysics 19(1) (September): 24-54.

    2. MacFarquhar, Larissa (2007), "Two Heads", The New Yorker (12 February): 58-69.

      • An interview with Paul and Patricia Churchland, two contemporary philosopher-cognitive scientists who believe in eliminativism.
      • Article may still be online, but you need to register (free) at the website.

      • "Paul and Pat, realizing that the revolutionary neuroscience they dream of is still in its infancy, are nonetheless already preparing themselves for this future, making the appropriate adjustments in their everyday conversation. One afternoon recently, Paul says, he was home making dinner when Pat burst in the door, having come straight from a frustrating faculty meeting. ‘She said, "Paul, don't speak to me, my serotonin levels have hit bottom, my brain is awash in glucocorticoids, my blood vessels are full of adrenaline, and if it weren't for my endogenous opiates I'd have driven the car into a tree on the way home. My dopamine levels need lifting. Pour me a Chardonnay, and I'll be down in a minute."’ Paul and Pat have noticed that it is not just they who talk this way—their students now talk of psychopharmacology as comfortably as of food."

        • On the other hand, the Churchlands "hope to replace our common notions of beliefs and feelings with more accurate descriptions of brain states…. Yet, while they already sometimes speak of their own experience as a sort of fluctuating neurochemical soup, science cannot yet accurately describe experience in terms of chemical concentrations. Even if it could, why replace concise descriptions of experience with ones that are wordy, prone to error, and unclear? For example, despite Patricia Churchland's talk of her serotonin ‘hitting bottom,’ there is likely no simple relationship between short-term serotonin fluctuations and mood in the general population. (Nor do depressed people necessarily have low serotonin—a myth that owes much to the marketing of serotonin-increasing drugs for depression.) Serotonin can be seen as a slow modulator of fast networks of neurons communicating throughout the brain. It should not surprise us if the effects of such modulatory neurochemicals depend crucially on the specific patterns of neural activity, and thus defy easy summary. After all, the neuromodulator fond in a glass of Chardonnay often soothes but sometimes inflames our anxiety. So, if what we really mean is that we want a glass of wine, eventually even Patricia Churchland seems to recognize that it is more effective to drop the neurobabble and ask for the drink."

          • Baggott, Matthew (2007), "Emotional Science" (letter to the editor), The New Yorker (26 March): 9.

    3. Legare, Cristine H.; & Gelman, Susan A. (2008), "Bewitchment, Biology, or Both: The Co-Existence of Natural and Supernatural Explanatory Frameworks across Development", Cognitive Science 32(4): 607-642.

      • Provides psychological and anthropological evidence that Rorty's arguments are empirically false.


  4. On functionalistic theories of mind:


    1. "Eventually, this nesting of boxes within boxes lands you with homunculi so stupid—all they have to do is remember to say yes or no when asked—that they can be ‘replaced by a machine’. One discharges fancy homunculi from one's scheme by organizing armies of such idiots to do the work."
      • Daniel C. Dennett (1978), "AI as Philosophy and as Psychology", in M. Ringle (ed.), Philosophical Perspectives on AI (Humanities Press); reprinted in Dennett, Brainstorms (MIT Press).


    2. Hilary Putnam's invention and subsequent refutation of functionalism:

      • Putnam, Hilary (1960), "Minds and Machines" [PDF], in Sidney Hook (ed.), Dimensions of Mind: A Symposium (New York: New York University Press): 148-179.
        • Putnam's first article on functionalism.

      • Putnam, Hilary (1973), "The Nature of Mental States", originally published as "Psychological Predicates", in W.H.~Capitan & D.D.~Merrill (eds.), Art, Mind, and Religion (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press): 37–48.

        • Putnam's clearest and strongest formulation of both functionalism and computationalism.

      • Putnam, Hilary (1988), Representation and Reality (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press).
        • An argument against functionalism, by the philosopher who first proposed it.
        • Appendix to Representation and Reality (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press): 121-125.

          • "Theorem. Every ordinary open system is a realization of every abstract finite automaton."

      • Putnam, Hilary (2008), "12 Philosophers—and Their Influence on Me", Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 82(2) (November): 102-115.

        • An intellectual autobiography that discusses his most current view of the functionalism controversy, esp. in §4, pp.104-105.

    3. Fodor, Jerry A. (1968), Psychological Explanation: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Psychology (New York: Random House).

      • For an earlier, shorter version, see:
        Fodor, Jerry A. (1965), "Explanations in Psychology", in Max Black (ed.), Philosophy in America (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press): 161–179.

    4. Fodor, Jerry A. (1981), "The Mind-Body Problem", Scientific American 244(1) (January): 114-123.

    5. Two arguments for the importance of the implementing medium in functionalistic theories of mind:

      1. Thagard, Paul (1986), "Parallel Computation and the Mind-Body Problem", Cognitive Science 10: 301-318.

      2. Hayes, Pat (1993), "Computers Don't Follow Instructions", Think 2(1).

    6. Block, Ned (1996), "[What Is] Functionalism[?]", Encyclopedia of Philosophy Supplement

    7. Piccinini, Gualtiero (2010), "The Mind as Neural Software? Understanding Functionalism, Computationalism, and Computational Functionalism", Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (Published Online: 27 May 2010)

    8. Gazzaniga, Michael S. (2010), "Neuroscience and the Correct Level of Explanation for Understanding Mind: An Extraterrestrial Roams through Some Neuroscience Laboratories and Concludes Earthlings Are Not Grasping How Best to Understand the Mind-Brain Interface", Trends in Cognitive Sciences 14(7) (July): 291–292.

      • An excellent description of the differences between the psychological (abstract, functional) and the physical (implementation) evels of description.

      • See also:
        Burge, Tyler (2010), "A Real Science of Mind", NY Times Opinionator: The Stone (19 December).


  5. Do plants (or other non-higher-animal biological organisms) have minds?





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