Neurons aside 1

May 30, 2003

Nick Bostrom claims the theory that conscious experience is computational is "widely accepted among cognitive scientists and philosophers of mind" ("Playthings of a higher mind", THES , May 16). This is unlikely.

Certainly, some cognitive scientists believe the mind is a program, so complex software will be conscious, but many others are sceptical.

Philosophers of mind take diverse positions. Some do not even believe in materialism - mind is brain - let alone support the computer theory. Of the materialists, some argue that computation is purely syntactical and cannot support consciousness.

Bostrom argues that "given substrate independence, it is in principle possible to implement a human mind on a sufficiently fast computer". But he conflates substrate independence - the mind is not dependent on neurons - with computational functionalism - consciousness is computer software. The former does not imply the latter. It is not even possible in principle unless computational functionalism were true. The idea of uploading your mind to a computer is fantasy. Human memory, for example, is completely different from computer memory.

To confuse physical reality with computer simulation is tempting, but the realism of computer games means nothing without the game player/s. Does a simulation of Superman fly?

The computer metaphor has been useful in helping to devise possible mechanisms for cognitive processes, such as perception, but philosophers must be wary of using it to support arguments involving consciousness.

Richard Wilson
Bicester

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 10 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

Elly Walton illustration (7 July 2016)

Researchers in the liberal arts seem to have made it their mission to communicate in the most obscure fashion, says Zachary Foster

Daniel Mitchell illustration (14 July 2016)

Frank Furedi says the mournful mood on campus and the disparagement and silencing of Leave supporters betray an isolated scholarly class

Michael Parkin illustration (7 July 2016)

Rising immigration-related costs and lack of employer support send an unwelcoming message to international staff, says Jason Danely

Female Brazilian football/soccer fan celebrating with flag of Brazil, Best universities in Latin America

Brazil leads Times Higher Education’s debut ranking of the top universities in Latin America

Child drives miniature car into people

Smaller, newer alternative providers are less likely to pass higher education review, analysis says