Functionalism, Revisionism, and Qualia

logoA paper by myself and Aaron Sloman, “Functionalism, Revisionism, and Qualia” has just been published in the APA Newsletter on Philosophy and Computing. (The whole issue looks fantastic – I’m looking forward to reading all of it, especially the other papers in the “Mind Robotics” section, and most especially the papers by Jun Tani and Riccardo Manzotti). Our contribution is a kind of follow-up to our 2003 paper “Virtual Machines and Consciousness”. There’s no abstract, so let me just list here a few of the more controversial things we claim (and in some cases, even argue for!):

  • Even if our concept of qualia is true of nothing, qualia might still exist (we’re looking at you, Dan Dennett!)
  • If qualia exist, they are physical – or at least their existence alone would not imply the falsity of physicalism (lots of people we’re looking at here )
  • We might not have qualia: The existence of qualia is an empirical matter.
  • Even if we don’t have qualia, it might be possible to build a robot that does!
  • The question of whether inverted qualia spectra are possible is, in a sense, incoherent.

If you get a chance to read it, I’d love to hear what you think.


How we represent emotion in the face: processing the content of information from and to the environment

The next E-Intentionality meeting will be Thursday, October 27th  in Freeman G31. Please note that David has offered to take preliminary comments in advance via email (


David Booth – ‘How we represent emotion in the face: processing the content of information from and to the environment’

This talk briefly presents an experiment which illustrates the scientific theory that e
mbodied and acculturated systems (such as you and me) represent information in the environment by causally processing its content in mathematically determinate ways. Three colleagues stated the strengths of emotions they saw in sets of keyboard characters that (badly) mimicked mobile parts of the human face. The mechanisms by which they rated the emoticons are given by formulae constructed deductively from discrimination distances between the presented diagrams and the memory of their features on occasions when a face has signalled the named emotional reaction to a situation. Five of the basic formulae of this theory of a mind have structures corresponding to classic conscious psychological subfunctions such as perceiving, describing, reasoning, intending and ’emoting’, and one to unconscious mental processing. Each formula specifies the interactions among mental events which, on the evidence, generated my colleagues’ answers to my questions. The calculations are totally dependent on prior and current material and societal affordances but say nothing about the development or ongoing execution of the neural or linguistic mechanisms involved, any more than do attractors, connectionist statistics or list programs. Functional accounts calculate merely amounts of information or other probabilistic quantities. Distinguishing among contents is equivalent to causal processing. Hence the plurality of mental, cultural and material systems in persons may accommodate a causation monism.

The Mereological Constraint



E-Intentionality, February 26th 2016, Pevensey 2A11, 12:00-12:50

Ron Chrisley: The Mereological Constraint

I will discuss what I call the mereological constraint, which can be traced back at least as far as Putnam’s writings in the 1960s, and is the idea, roughly, that a mind cannot have another mind as a proper constituent.  I show that the implications (benefits?) of such a constraint, if true, would be far-ranging, allowing one to finesse the Chinese room and Chinese nation arguments against computationalism, reject certain notions of extended mind, reject most group minds, make a ruling on the modality of sensory substitution, etc.  But is the mereological conjecture true?  I will look at some possible arguments for the conjecture, including one that appeals to the fact that rationality must be grounded in the non-rational, and one that attempts to derive the constraint from a comparable one concerning the individuation of computational states.  I will also consider an objection to the conjecture, that argues that it would confer on us a priori knowledge of facts that are, intuitively, empirical.

Audio (28.5 mb, .mp3)