Two threats to representation

Synthese 129 (2):211-231 (2001)
I consider two threats to the idea that on-line intelligent behaviour (the production of fluid and adaptable responses to ongoing sensory input) must or should be explained by appeal to neurally located representations. The first of these threats occurs when extra-neural factors account for the kind of behavioural richness and flexibility normally associated with representation-based control. I show how this anti-representational challenge can be met, if we apply the thought that, to be a representational system, an action-oriented neural system must not only be the source of at least some of the observed behavioural richness and flexibility, it must also feature two architectural traits, namely arbitrariness and homuncularity. Unfortunately, however, this solution opens the door to our second threat to representation. The homuncularity condition will not be met by any system in which the causal contribution of each component is massively context-sensitive and variable over time. I end by discussing the empirical bet that biological nervous systems will not exhibit this style of causation
Keywords Behavior  Causation  Metaphysics  Representation
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