Virtual Machine Functionalism: The only form of functionalism worth taking seriously in Philosophy of Mind


Most philosophers appear to have ignored the distinction between the broad concept of Virtual Machine Functionalism (VMF) described in Sloman&Chrisley (2003) and the better known version of functionalism referred to there as Atomic State Functionalism (ASF), which is often given as an explanation of what Functionalism is, e.g. in Block (1995). One of the main differences is that ASF encourages talk of supervenience of states and properties, whereas VMF requires supervenience of machines that are arbitrarily complex networks of causally interacting (virtual, but real) processes, possibly operating on different time-scales, examples of which include many different procesess usually running concurrently on a modern computer performing various tasks concerned with handling interfaces to physical devices, managing the file system, dealing with security, providing tools, entertainments, and games, and possibly processing research data. Another example of VMF would be the kind of functionalism involved in a large collection of possibly changing socio-economic structures and processes interacting in a complex community, and yet another is illustrated by the kind of virtual machinery involved in the many levels of visual processing of information about spatial structures, processes, and relationships (including percepts of moving shadows, reflections, highlights, optical-flow patterns and changing affordances) as you walk through a crowded car-park on a sunny day: generating a whole zoo of interacting qualia. (Forget solitary red patches, or experiences thereof.) Perhaps VMF should be re-labelled "Virtual MachinERY Functionalism" because the word 'machinery' more readily suggests something complex with interacting parts. VMF is concerned with virtual machines that are made up of interacting concurrently active (but not necessarily synchronised) chunks of virtual machinery which not only interact with one another and with their physical substrates (which may be partly shared, and also frequently modified by garbage collection, metabolism, or whatever) but can also concurrently interact with and refer to various things in the immediate and remote environment (via sensory/motor channels, and possible future technologies also). I.e. virtual machinery can include mechanisms that create and manipulate semantic content, not only syntactic structures or bit patterns as digital virtual machines do. Please note: Click on the title above or the link below to read the paper. I prefer to keep all my papers freely accessible on my web site so that I can correct mistakes and add improvements. This is now part of the Meta-Morphogenesis project:



    Upload a copy of this work     Papers currently archived: 83,948

External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library

  • Only published works are available at libraries.

Similar books and articles

What am I? Virtual machines and the mind/body problem.John L. Pollock - 2008 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 76 (2):237–309.
A new lilliputian argument against machine functionalism.William G. Lycan - 1979 - Philosophical Studies 35 (April):279-87.
Virtual machines and consciousness.Aaron Sloman & Ronald L. Chrisley - 2003 - Journal of Consciousness Studies 10 (4-5):133-172.
Functionalism and sensations.Mark Brown - 1983 - Auslegung 10:218-28.
Functionalism.Janet Levin - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Some varieties of functionalism.Sydney Shoemaker - 1981 - Philosophical Topics 12 (1):93-119.
Troubles with functionalism.Ned Block - 1978 - Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science 9:261-325.
Form, function and feel.William Lycan - 1981 - Journal of Philosophy 78 (January):24-50.
Mental states and Putnam's functionalist hypothesis.William G. Lycan - 1974 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 52 (1):48-62.
Virtual Aspects of the Fairy Tale.Alekseeva Olga Pavlovna - 2008 - Proceedings of the Xxii World Congress of Philosophy 26:77-79.


Added to PP

314 (#46,309)

6 months
17 (#88,973)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Author's Profile

Aaron Sloman
University of Birmingham

References found in this work

Phenomenology of Perception.Maurice Merleau-Ponty - 1962 - New York: Routledge. Edited by Donald A. Landes.
Phenomenology of Perception.Maurice Merleau-Ponty - 1962 - New York: Routledge. Edited by Donald A. Landes.
Science, Perception and Reality.Wilfrid Sellars (ed.) - 1963 - New York,: Humanities Press.

View all 16 references / Add more references