Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Functionalism, causal theory of content and introspection

We should read functionalism as denying that mental properties like being in pain are neural properties. Rather, there are neural properties that realize mental properties. Thus, the property P of being in pain is the property of being an x that has a property N such that FP(x,N), where FP(x,N) is a predicate that says that N is a property exemplified by x that plays the pain role in x. The property N is a realizer of the pain property P in x. The materialist functionalist then says that the realizers of our mental properties are all neural properties.

The causal theory of content, in a functionalist context, identifies the content of a fundamental perception as the relevant cause of the realizer of that perception. Thus, perceptions whose realizers are typically caused by horses have horses as their intentional content.

Now among our perceptions, there are introspective perceptions of our own mental states. When I have pain, I often perceive that I have pain, and sometimes when I am puzzled, I perceive that I am puzzled. But now we have a problem. For the most plausible story compatible with the above about how we form introspective perceptions is that they are caused by the states that realize the mental states that the perceptions are of. Thus, if N is the neural state that realizes my pain, my perception of my being in pain is caused by N. But by the causal theory of content, that perception's content, then, is the neural state N. In other words, instead of perceiving that I am in pain, I perceive that I am in such-and-such a neural state. Yet although the neural state realizes the pain, it is distinct from the pain. The pain is a second-order property, while the neural state is a first-order property.

So, it seems that the causal theory of content plus functionalism predicts that our introspective awareness is neural states rather than of the mental states the the neural states realize. But surely our introspective awareness is of mental states.

But perhaps we can extend the causal theory of content to an explanatory theory of content. And while the second-order state of being in pain perhaps doesn't cause the realizer of the introspective awareness of the pain, nonetheless the state of being in pain explains either the realizer of the introspective awareness or the introspective awareness (a functional state) itself.

But I think this is implausible. For consider extra-mental functional stuff. Thus, green rectangles realize money. As children, we first see the green rectangles as such. Later we see these green rectangles as caught up in a great functional systems, and we come to see not just green rectangles but the money they realize. It is the physical stuff that is the first object of perception, and the perception of functional stuff is built on that. By analogy, then, we might predict that if functionalism and the causal theory of content are correct, then before children introspect to their pain, they introspect to their neural states. But that is deeply implausible. On the contrary, it is the introspection of the mental, not the neural, states that seems to come first, both chronologically and phenomenologically.

2 comments:

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Alex:

"We should read functionalism as denying that mental properties like being in pain are neural properties. Rather, there are neural properties that realize mental properties. Thus, the property P of being in pain is the property of being an x that has a property N such that FP(x,N), where FP(x,N) is a predicate that says that N is a property exemplified by x that plays the pain role in x. The property N is a realizer of the pain property P in x... Thus, perceptions whose realizers are typically caused by horses have horses as their intentional content.Now among our perceptions, there are introspective perceptions of our own mental states. When I have pain, I often perceive that I have pain, and sometimes when I am puzzled..."

This is all very simple and doesn't need a lengthy complicated, wordy expaination at all. It's plain and simple - horses cause pain to people who love them. I've been kicked in the thigh by a horse, I was not puzzled at all by the pain. Getting kicked by something ten times stronger than you hurts. The strange thing was that it took a full two seconds before I felt any pain. I wore slacks instead of shorts eventhough we were having a heat wave so people wouldn't be freaked out by what my thigh looked like. I've been stepped on by draft horse cross quarter horse mare whose feet were bigger than dinner plates. The sensation of having one's toe pressed by something that weighs over a half a ton is quite something else. If you try to push the animal off of you, the instinct of the animal is to lean forward against your push thus putting more weight on your foot! It hurts but in a strange way not like you think it should hurt. I also had an Anglo-Arab gelding spook and jump right straight on top of my foot. When I got home from the barn, I was afraid to take my boot and sock off lest my foot fall out of them in pieces. That's what it felt like. At one point a sports doctor/orthopedic surgeon who also is an equestrian took an X-ray of one of my feet. He showed it to me and said "A horsey must have worked on your foot" as he pointed out the destroyed joint of my big toe and bone splinter. Then on a very cold February day my feet were hurting badly from the cold as I held my horse, Merlin, for a blacksmith. Merlin got annoyed with something and bit my fingers. For a second as my fingers hurt, my feet stopped hurting and felt warm. When the pain left my fingers, the pain from the cold returned to my feet with a vengeance and then it felt like my feet were hurting twice as bad from the cold. Thank God for those toe warmer and hand warmer heat packs! Too bad they weren't available then. They are a modern miracle! About two years later, I also sustained a tufts fracture in one of my toes at a horse show, compliments of my horse Baltic Storm. I was trying to get the bridle on him to get him ready to go into the ring and in his excitment he struck my foot with his hoof. Horses are wonderfull at podiatric surgery. Thanks to my horses, my hammer toes are gone and I have no need of surgery to correct them. My sister has been dumped off by both her horses. She got a fractured foot in one of those falls, but that was an unlucky landing on a rock, and a broken wrist requiring surgery in another fall. I have another friend who broke his shoulder in a fall from a horse and had to have surgery. Yes, we love our horses and they sure love us back! Love just hurts soooo good.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I would think it's better to be stepped on by a larger foot, as the pressure is lower for the same weight, right?