Neurosemantics: A Theory

Dissertation, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (2002)
There is good evidence that the cerebral cortex is the seat of the human mind, so an understanding of representation in the cortex could help us understand the nature of mental representation. I argue that the cortex represents in the way that models do; it is an evolutionarily designed model-building machine. The cortex belongs to a general class of model-building machines that produce isomorphisms to structures in the environment by interacting with them. The representational content of a particular model produced by such a machine is determined by the operational principles according to which the machine was designed, and the history of machine-environment interaction that resulted in the production of that model. ;I explore the possibility that the operational principles according to which the cerebral cortex was designed, i.e. aspects of its causal profile that were selected for, are those described by the SINBAD theory. The SINBAD theory implies that it is the biological function of the cortex to make its constituent neurons come to interact in a way that is isomorphic to regularities structured around "sources of correlation". In the context of this isomorphism, it is the function of a particular SINBAD cell to correspond to a particular source of correlation, the one that is responsible for that cell's tuning. In other words, the cortex builds models of environmental regularities structured around sources of correlation. ;Understanding mental representation as cortical representation of this kind allows us to explain a number of important and/or puzzling features of mental intentionality as we know it: the possibility of equivocation, misrepresentation, empty representation, and twin cases, the relation between concepts and inferential roles, how it is possible for us to acquire objective concepts and beliefs via our subjective and idiosyncratic senses, and the distinction between usefulness and truth. I conclude by outlining an account of the occurrent propositional attitudes as non-representational uses of a SINBAD model that has been built up through experience. Non-representational use is cashed out in terms of causal role. Together with an account of the non-occurrent attitudes, this yields an understanding of the nature of psychological explanation
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