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A Defence of Cartesian Materialism

By Gerard O'Brien and Jon Opie


One of the principal tasks Dennett sets himself in "Consciousness Explained" is to demolish the Cartesian theatre model of phenomenal consciousness, which in its contemporary garb takes the form of Cartesian materialism: the idea that conscious experience is a process of presentation realized in the physical materials of the brain. The now standard response to Dennett is that, in focusing on Cartesian materialism, he attacks an impossibly naive account of consciousness held by no one currently working in cognitive science or the philosophy of mind. Our response is quite different. We believe that, once properly formulated, Cartesian materialism is no straw man. Rather, it is an attractive hypothesis about the relationship between the computational architecture of the brain and phenomenal consciousness, and hence one that is worthy of further exploration. Consequently, our primary aim in this paper is to defend Cartesian materialism from Dennett's assault. We do this by showing that Dennett's argument against this position is founded on an implicit assumption (about the relationship between phenomenal experience and information coding in the brain), which while valid in the context of classical cognitive science, is not forced on connectionism

Topics: Cognitive Psychology, Computational Neuroscience, Philosophy of Mind
Year: 1999
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