Tom Polger
University of Cincinnati
In the early years of the 1990s, a number of philosophers and cognitive scientists became enthused about the idea that mental states are spatially and temporally distributed in the brain, and that this has significant consequences for philosophy of mind. Daniel Dennett (1991), for example, appealed to the spatial and temporal distribution of cognitive processes in the brain in order to argue that there is no unified place where or time when consciousness occurs in the brain. Dennett used this interim conclusion as a premise in a series of arguments designed to undermine what he calls the “Cartesian Theater” view of consciousness, according to which there is an independent and fact of the matter about when and where conscious mental states occur. Most famously, Dennett argues that anyone who believes there are such facts of the matter must choose between “Orwellian” and “Stalinesque” theories of the timing of consciousness, in order to accommodate certain data about the spatial distribution of the timing of consciousness-related brain events. But, he claims, that distinction is a distinction without a difference: The choice between “Orwellian” and “Stalinesque” views is either nonsense, or at the very least one that we could never be justified in making. And this, Dennett takes it, is a reductio ad absurdum of any theory of consciousness that says there is a fact of the matter about when and where is occurs
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