Computationalism and the locality principle

Minds and Machines 19 (4):495-506 (2009)

David Longinotti
University of Maryland (system-wide page)
Computationalism, a specie of functionalism, posits that a mental state like pain is realized by a ‘core’ computational state within a particular causal network of such states. This entails that what is realized by the core state is contingent on events remote in space and time, which puts computationalism at odds with the locality principle of physics. If computationalism is amended to respect locality, then it posits that a type of phenomenal experience is determined by a single type of computational state. But a computational state, considered by itself, is of no determinate type—it has no particular symbolic content, since it could be embedded in any of an infinite number of algorithms. Hence, if locality is respected, then the type of experience that is realized by a computational state, or whether any experience at all is realized, is under-determined by the computational nature of the state. Accordingly, Block’s absent and inverted qualia arguments against functionalism find support in the locality principle of physics. If computationalism denies locality to avoid this problem, then it cannot be considered a physicalist theory since it would entail a commitment to phenomena, like teleological causation and action-at-a-distance, that have long been rejected by modern science. The remaining theoretical alternative is to accept the locality principle for macro events and deny that formal, computational operations are sufficient to realize a phenomenal mental state.
Keywords Causation   Computationalism   Functionalism   Locality   Multiple realizability   Qualia
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DOI 10.1007/s11023-009-9172-4
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