Brains, vats, and neurally-controlled animats

The modern vat-brain debate is an epistemological one, and it focuses on the point of view of a putatively deceived subject. Semantic externalists argue that we cannot coherently wonder whether we are brains in vats. This paper examines a new experimental paradigm for cognitive neuroscience—the neurally-controlled animat (NCA) paradigm—that seems to have a great deal in common with the vat-brain scenario. Neural cells are provided with a simulated body within an artificial world in order to study the brain both in vitro and in vivo. Given the similarity between the NCA scenario and the vat-brain scenario, semantic externalism seems to undermine the utility of the NCA methodology. Three initial responses to the externalist challenge are offered. A fourth response clarifies the distinctive theoretical background to the NCA in ‘artificial life’ and, in doing so, we uncover an anti-representationalist conception of the NCA. This distances the NCA paradigm from externalist objections and casts cognitive neuroscience, and the vat-brain debate, in a new light. # 2004 Published by Elsevier Ltd.
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DOI 10.1016/j.shpsc.2004.03.004
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Tyler Burge (1979). Individualism and the Mental. Midwest Studies in Philosophy 4 (1):73-122.
Tim Crane (1996). All the Difference in the World. In Andrew Pessin & Sanford Goldberg (eds.), Philosophical Quarterly. M. E. Sharpe 1-25.

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