Neurons aside 1

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

Already registered?

Sign in now if you are already registered or a current subscriber. Or subscribe for unrestricted access to our digital editions and iPad and iPhone app.

Register to continue  

You've enjoyed reading five THE articles this month. Register now to get five more, or subscribe for unrestricted access.

Most Commented

  • Zygmunt Bauman with hand over mouth

Eminent sociologist has recycled 90,000 words of material across a dozen books, claims paper

  • Man lying beneath rugby pile-up

Six academics share their experiences before delivering a verdict on the system

  • Woman taking homeopathic medicine

Alternative treatments in healthcare plan is latest in a series of homeopathy-related controversies

  • Sorana Vieru, National Union of Students

Sorana Vieru says exams and essays 'privilege' more advantaged students, calls for changes to 'Middle Ages' format

  • Andrew Fire receives Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 2006

UK is second to US for nationality of Nobel prizewinners in the 21st century