What's wrong with functionalism?

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JamesOfSeattle
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What's wrong with functionalism?

Post by JamesOfSeattle » February 4th, 2018, 3:10 pm

[This was originally from a thread in the General section, but it got no response, and I was hoping for some feedback, so I'm posting it here]

I have reason to believe that functionalism is correct. My understanding is that in any system where there is something "mental" going on, there are two descriptions of that system: the physical description and the functional description. The pertinent article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy puts it this way:
Functionalism is the doctrine that what makes something a thought, desire, pain (or any other type of mental state) depends not on its internal [phyiscal] constitution, but solely on its function, or the role it plays, in the cognitive system of which it is a part. More precisely, functionalist theories take the identity of a mental state to be determined by its causal relations to sensory stimulations, other mental states, and behavior.
Now a functional description is said to be multiply-realizable, i.e., there can be more than one physical system that instantiates that functional description. If that is true, then the functional description doesn't tell you anything about the physical details of the system. In point of fact, from the subjective (functional) perspective there doesn't need to be any physical system at all. That's why Descartes' account, which is from the subjective/functional perspective, is completely compatible with dualism as well as a soul that can continue after the body dies.

I've read about the objections to functionalism in the SEP article, but I don't find them convincing. So what's wrong with functionalism?

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Hereandnow
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Re: What's wrong with functionalism?

Post by Hereandnow » February 4th, 2018, 6:30 pm

I don't understand how a functionalist can explain suffering and joy, pain and pleasure. Being happy is not being functional, though surely one "functions" to get there.

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Re: What's wrong with functionalism?

Post by JamesOfSeattle » February 4th, 2018, 7:42 pm

According to the quote in the OP pain, for example, is "determined by its causal relations to sensory stimulations, other mental states, and behavior". So standard physical pain is determined by interoceptive input which tends to indicate tissue damage (something hurts), tends to draw more attention to said input than other mental states (makes it hard to concentrate), and tends to generate behavior intended to decrease or terminate said input. It also tends to generate certain systemic effects (emotions).

What kind of explanation are you looking for?

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Re: What's wrong with functionalism?

Post by Hereandnow » February 4th, 2018, 9:26 pm

Giving a causal account is like answering the question where are you? with, I got here by bus?

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Re: What's wrong with functionalism?

Post by JamesOfSeattle » February 5th, 2018, 12:11 am

Thus the question, what kind of explanation are you looking for?

Here, I'll guess. You want an explanation of why something that feels like something feels like something, to which my answer is: it couldn't not. [I know, it's hard to read, but it was fun to write].

Here's a thought experiment. Suppose you're in the Chinese Room, except it's not THE Chinese Room, it's just a room with a slot in the wall. Outside is a panel of some number of inputs, say lights [could be buckets of water or anything]. The inputs are either on or off. Attached to each input is a piece of paper. When a light goes on, an assistant takes the paper and passes it into the room. When the paper comes in, if there is no symbol on it, you make up a random symbol and write the random symbol on the paper, write the symbol on a chalkboard (or do something else) and pass the paper back out of the room, and the assistant returns it to the input. So thereafter, whenever that input is on, you get that paper with that symbol.

Suppose further that your friend is similarly situated in such a room and you can speak to them by intercom. So when the next input comes your friend asks "Hey did you get that? What knot did you put on it?" Apparently, your friend gets strings instead of pieces of paper ... the point being you have no idea how your friend uniquely identifies each input, but you know that he can distinguish inputs somehow, and that at least sometimes his inputs seem related to your inputs. You respond "I don't know what you're talking about, but let's call that one 'red'".

I guess this is a variation on Wittgenstein's beetle in a box. The point is that there is no object there that is a "feeling". There's just an input, and the fact that you can distuinguish that input from other inputs. And the fact that some of your inputs seem to be related to other people's inputs such that you can agree on a name and hope you're talking about something similar.

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Maxcady10001
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Re: What's wrong with functionalism?

Post by Maxcady10001 » February 5th, 2018, 12:49 am

I believe a functionalist would say feeling states function as a tool for group interaction, like consciousness. How one member of a group feels is likely to influence the rest of the group, and feelings unify a group in its behavior and goals.
It is rare that a member of a group will have feelings that differ from the group. And feelings help groups go from one certainty to the next, as groups never doubt. So a group will transition from one goal to another, and feelings help this transition. If five members of a group are angry and fired up, its two remaining members will experience the same emotions. Their is a phenomenon called mirror neurons, which is, when we are watching an action being performed by other people, the same neurons associated with the action are activated in our brains.
As to what I think is wrong with functionalism, memory is what comes to mind. What function does my remembering a celebrity's birthday serve, over "important" work I have to do. I remember the most ridiculous things, that I see no function in, forget a lot of what is thought of as important.

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Re: What's wrong with functionalism?

Post by JamesOfSeattle » February 5th, 2018, 1:22 am

Max, the function of memory is not everything that you remember. The function of memory is to be able to remember anything that might be important. Also it's important to keep in mind that the functional explanation is more an explanation of why a particular agent was created the way it was, not so much the way it is working now.

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Re: What's wrong with functionalism?

Post by Hereandnow » February 5th, 2018, 1:28 am

J
amesOfSeattle:
Thus the question, what kind of explanation are you looking for?

Here, I'll guess. You want an explanation of why something that feels like something feels like something, to which my answer is: it couldn't not. [I know, it's hard to read, but it was fun to write].

Here's a thought experiment. Suppose you're in the Chinese Room, except it's not THE Chinese Room, it's just a room with a slot in the wall. Outside is a panel of some number of inputs, say lights [could be buckets of water or anything]. The inputs are either on or off. Attached to each input is a piece of paper. When a light goes on, an assistant takes the paper and passes it into the room. When the paper comes in, if there is no symbol on it, you make up a random symbol and write the random symbol on the paper, write the symbol on a chalkboard (or do something else) and pass the paper back out of the room, and the assistant returns it to the input. So thereafter, whenever that input is on, you get that paper with that symbol.

Suppose further that your friend is similarly situated in such a room and you can speak to them by intercom. So when the next input comes your friend asks "Hey did you get that? What knot did you put on it?" Apparently, your friend gets strings instead of pieces of paper ... the point being you have no idea how your friend uniquely identifies each input, but you know that he can distinguish inputs somehow, and that at least sometimes his inputs seem related to your inputs. You respond "I don't know what you're talking about, but let's call that one 'red'".

I guess this is a variation on Wittgenstein's beetle in a box. The point is that there is no object there that is a "feeling". There's just an input, and the fact that you can distuinguish that input from other inputs. And the fact that some of your inputs seem to be related to other people's inputs such that you can agree on a name and hope you're talking about something similar.
I'll grant you Wittgenstein's beetle problem. I read Quine once, his radical translation and gavagi/ rabbit problems. Here is similar: My understanding of what you say regarding that particular thing rests entirely "within the language" which we share and agree on. Now, consistency of reporting and agreement between utterances in practical matters as to the gestures, the sounds made, and so on, vis a vis experienced encounters in the world and with each other does present a reason to assume things are the same for all. There is nothing of pain, for example, that is IN the language, and it is through language that not only do we communicate with each other, but communicate within ourselves, given that (I am thinking of Meade and the social nature of private language) the system of gestures in public structures out there are internalized and established as structures within. So the same matters and issues of agreement among each other is internalized.

So: if I have this right, it's a bit messy, my experience of pain is actually an input that cannot be pinned down by any language sharing. for the system of language I am using to call pain, pain never possesses any of the intuited event inside.

I may be off a bit. Haven't thought about it lately. But it does not one wit reduce the screaming unknown X I have from that spear lodged in my kidney. Which is my issue with functionalism.

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Re: What's wrong with functionalism?

Post by Hereandnow » February 5th, 2018, 1:31 am

.....system of language I am using to call pain never possesses. One "pain" too many.
I should probably proofread.

Maxcady10001
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Re: What's wrong with functionalism?

Post by Maxcady10001 » February 5th, 2018, 1:53 am

What about the function of feeling states, what do you think about what I said there? And I thought that was what I meant, that I am not able to remember what is important? But I do understand the function of memory, I guess as you said it was more a question of functionality.

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Re: What's wrong with functionalism?

Post by Fooloso4 » February 6th, 2018, 10:08 am

JOS:
If that is true, then the functional description doesn't tell you anything about the physical details of the system. In point of fact, from the subjective (functional) perspective there doesn't need to be any physical system at all.


The first part I think is correct, but the second part does not follow from the first. There has to be something that functions. As you say:
… there can be more than one physical system that instantiates that functional description.
The function is realized in at least one physical system.
If that is true, then the functional description doesn't tell you anything about the physical details of the system.
Well, if I could no longer do something that I had been able to do, it does make sense to look at the physical details to see if something in my brain or other physical systems has malfunctioned.
That's why Descartes' account, which is from the subjective/functional perspective, is completely compatible with dualism as well as a soul that can continue after the body dies.
Descartes’ account relies on the existence of a “thinking substance”. There must still be something that functions, only it is a “thinking thing” rather than “extended thing”. It is not that the subjective/functional perspective is completely compatible with dualism but rather that if you eliminate physical systems some form of dualism becomes necessary, that is, there must be some substance or thing that functions in a way that physical systems do not.

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Re: What's wrong with functionalism?

Post by Namelesss » February 6th, 2018, 2:40 pm

JamesOfSeattle wrote:
February 4th, 2018, 3:10 pm
[This was originally from a thread in the General section, but it got no response, and I was hoping for some feedback, so I'm posting it here]...
How does 'functionalism' hold up in light of the following reality;

'Thoughts/feelings' (feelings are thoughts) are not manufactured (or stored, or perceived) in (by) the brain, they are perceived information waves/Mindstuff like everything else.

As far as the (erroneous) obsolete notion of 'causality';
"'Cause' and 'effect' is a clumsy way to say; two mutually arising opposite Perspectives of the same One Event!"

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Re: What's wrong with functionalism?

Post by JamesOfSeattle » February 6th, 2018, 4:03 pm

Fooloso4,
Fooloso4 wrote:
February 6th, 2018, 10:08 am
The function is realized in at least one physical system.
I agree that there has to be a physical system, but for separate reasons. From the functional/subjective perspective it is entirely possible that all of the mental things that happen happen in a non-physical soul. At the time of Descartes that was a reasonable explanation.

Again, there is nothing in the self-reflecting view that requires something physical. It's only when we look outside the self at other humans, and they appear to be self-reflecting, and we can explain their self-reflecting by actions of their brains, and then we realize we have a brain, so we realize there is a good chance that our self-reflecting comes from our brain.
Descartes’ account relies on the existence of a “thinking substance”. There must still be something that functions, only it is a “thinking thing” rather than “extended thing”. It is not that the subjective/functional perspective is completely compatible with dualism but rather that if you eliminate physical systems some form of dualism becomes necessary, that is, there must be some substance or thing that functions in a way that physical systems do not.
I thought I was saying this already. Descartes' account is compatible w/ a thinking substance, aka a soul, which is not physical (extended).

By the way, this is how we get unipsychism, panpsychism and zombies. From the functional/subjective perspective (which is what we are all using), it's possible to imagine "psychism" to be non-physical, so it can be in every physical thing and/or every physical place. And we would never know because the only way we can learn about things is physical interaction. And psyche can also be absent from things that appear to be thinking. When we get to the physical explanation of psyche, these things will be less plausible.

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Re: What's wrong with functionalism?

Post by JamesOfSeattle » February 6th, 2018, 4:17 pm

Nameless,
Namelesss wrote:
February 6th, 2018, 2:40 pm
How does 'functionalism' hold up in light of the following reality;
'Thoughts/feelings' (feelings are thoughts) are not manufactured (or stored, or perceived) in (by) the brain, they are perceived information waves/Mindstuff like everything else.
Functionalism probably doesn't hold up to that reality, but then I think that reality is mistaken and not worth believing.
As far as the (erroneous) obsolete notion of 'causality';
"'Cause' and 'effect' is a clumsy way to say; two mutually arising opposite Perspectives of the same One Event!"
I actually pretty much agree with this, kinda. I think it is correct to say anything that happens (any transformation of matter) can be described by
Input -> [agent] -> Output,
and thus we can say the agent "caused" the output when presented with the input.

But it is almost certainly the case the we could describe that same event as
Agent -> [input] -> different Output

But I'm pretty sure the output in the second version is necessarily different from the first, in which case it is still correct to assign the causation to the thing in the middle.

By the way, this argument is all based on David Deutsch's Constructor Theory, so I'm not sure it works out that way.

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Re: What's wrong with functionalism?

Post by Namelesss » February 7th, 2018, 1:49 am

JamesOfSeattle wrote:
February 6th, 2018, 4:17 pm
Nameless,
Namelesss wrote:
February 6th, 2018, 2:40 pm
How does 'functionalism' hold up in light of the following reality;
'Thoughts/feelings' (feelings are thoughts) are not manufactured (or stored, or perceived) in (by) the brain, they are perceived information waves/Mindstuff like everything else.
Functionalism probably doesn't hold up to that reality, but then I think that reality is mistaken and not worth believing.
Neither science or philosophy is concerned with 'beliefs', other than as a study.
There is plenty of science and philosophy in support of what I offered.
And, practically none to support that the wet lump of meat rattling around in our skulls manufactures thought and Consciousness.
As far as the (erroneous) obsolete notion of 'causality';
"'Cause' and 'effect' is a clumsy way to say; two mutually arising opposite Perspectives of the same One Event!"
I actually pretty much agree with this, kinda. I think it is correct to say anything that happens (any transformation of matter) can be described by
Input -> [agent] -> Output,
and thus we can say the agent "caused" the output when presented with the input....
The difference between what you are saying with arrows and what I offered is completely different.
What I offered was a simultaneity, an accurate representation of the Holistic structure of Reality, the immediacy of Now! All Nows synchronously!
Mutual arising, timelessly, not a sequence or a process.
That takes 'time', which is an artifact, a theory to explain 'motion', another artifact of thought.

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