Human Mind vs. Alternate Mind

In the section on functionalism, Churchland describes an alien life form that contains an alien psychological constitution.  This alien’s constitution is based on the element silicon, not carbon.  Now silicon acts the same as carbon due to its position on the periodic table, yet it is still different than carbon (number of protons, neutrons, etc.).  Churchland states that this alien brain, “can sustain a functional economy of internal states whose mutual relations perfectly parallel the mutual relations that define [human’s] mental states” (Churchland 36).  This means that the alien brain that is made up of different material than ours, can act similarly as ours does.  If that is the case, and those mental states are causally connected to inputs that parallel our on connections, then “the alien could have pains, desires, hopes, and fears just as we do, despite the differences is physical system that sustains…those functional states” (Churchland 36-37).  This means that there can exist life forms of a certain makeup that can have a consciousness and don’t have to be made up of the same material that we are made up of.

Churchland then extends his argument to artificial systems.  He states, “were we to create an electronic system-a computer of some kind-whose internal economy was functionally isomorphic with our [constitution] in all the relevant ways, then it too would be the subject of mental states” (Churchland 37).  If you think you’ve seen this before, you’d be right.  It’s very similar to the substrate-independence thesis we talked about while analyzing Bostrom’s computer simulation argument.  It basically states that “mental states can supervene on any of a broad class of physical substrates” (Bostrom 2).  Now this ‘broad class of physical substrates’ can extend to alien life (as I discussed in the first paragraph) or artificial intelligence as Bostrom has discussed in his paper.  Bostrom just assumes the fact to be true in his argument, but what if it was actually physically possible to design a computer (or something of similar data running capacity) to be isomorphic in functionality with our own personal design?  Now it seems weird, I know, but we already have robots that can perceive human expression, and display distinct emotion based on the context of the interaction.

I would also like to add that us as humans like to think of ourselves as superior beings in the world, yet if we look specifically at our brains and compare them to other animals’ brains, our nervous center of our brain is only slightly more complex than that of other animals.  In addition, our brain’s weight in proportion to an average human’s weight is not the greatest among all the animal species.  Is it not logically possible than that there could exist other animals besides humans who could think, feel and perceive the world just as we do?  Could other animals not also have a consciousness?  We generally don’t think about this because we can’t communicate with other animals.  There is no real reason why animals can’t have a consciousness, as consciousness is a private matter, no one else can know if another has a consciousness (though everyone else besides you could potentially be a zombie, but that’s for another time).  We also assume animals can’t have a consciousness because we have both domesticated many of them, and feel we can control just about all of the animal species out there.  This, simply put, is human arrogance at its highest.

What this all means is that “there are almost certainly many more ways than one for nature…to put together a thinking, feeling, perceiving creature” (Churchland 37).  My question to you is do you think it is possible to have computers, or find life forms, or something not of our constitution that can think, feel, perceive, or have a general consciousness?


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3 thoughts on “Human Mind vs. Alternate Mind

  1. I don’t think it’s possible for computers, other life forms, or something not of our constitution to become essentially realized humans (A caveat: this isn’t necessarily coming from any philosophical standpoint).

    To be human is to have a unique human experience, specific to an individual. It’s an aggregate of days lived through and lessons learned. Even in the case of functionalism or the substrate-independence thesis, yes it’s theoretically (maybe even empirically) possible to import human intelligence into computers or synthesized organisms. But this still doesn’t constitute humanity. So although an alien or a robot might be able to respond to environmental stimuli appropriately because it possesses human intelligence, the response isn’t being generated organically. It would be a solution to some algorithm that’s computed to retrieve an appropriate response or a carefully selected response from a list reactions. But these two ways of responding to something aren’t the ways that humans respond in my opinion. We respond based off of emotion and experience. I just feel like since a computer or alien isn’t at its core a human being, then it can never be the case that the said organism is “feeling” or “thinking.” It’s merely responding and producing mathematical solutions.

    Again, all just my opinion. No real evidence to back anything up. I just wanted to put that out there as food for thought.

  2. I think the real problem here is the definition of what exactly is “human”. In response to the post and the previous comment, the conflict can be seen through a dualist point of view. Consider the mind and body to be two separate things. If being human is simply having the mind of one, then it is quite possible for something not of our constitution to be humans. It simply needs to have some physical constitution that allows the same mental processes as experienced in a real human.

    This is where I seem to disagree with the previous comment. If being human is simply to have have a unique human experience, and an alien or robot can have the same experiences without using the same constitution our brains are made out of, then what makes them any different from us? The term “organically produced” can be seen to be subjective towards the type of species it is referring to. To an alien, silicon brain matter is just as organic as carbon brain matter is to humans. Furthermore, emotions and experiences are also just more mental processes that can theoretically be replicated by beings of other constitutions as well.

    1. I completely understand where you are coming from Derek but saying that a human experience can be simulated by something else assumes that you have agreed with the substrate independence theory. Everything you have said is completely valid, however others may not agree that a human mind can be simulated by anything non-human, therefore your argument falls apart in their eyes.

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