Mental States

Essay by EssaySwap ContributorUniversity, Bachelor's February 2008

download word file, 5 pages 0.0

Downloaded 342 times

Upon discovering that my friend, Roberta, has an extremely complex digital computer in her head I was perplexed as to whether Roberta has mental states. Under the assumption that in order to have mental states she must be have perception, sensations, emotions, beliefs, thoughts, purposes, desires, as well as a conscious self-awareness, and free-will, I came to the conclusion that Roberta does not posses mental states. Through the process of explaining my initial misconceptions concerning Roberta followed by her doctors arguments concerning her lack of a brain, inability to comprehend language, and to make independent decisions I will attempt to illustrate that she does not have mental states.

Through her convincing imitation of human behavior, Roberta managed to fool me into thinking she was human. In conversation she not only discussed relevant topics, but also responded to me with appropriate answers in a feasible amount of time. For instance when talking about math, she appeared to struggle with difficult equations instead of finding immediate solutions as a calculator would.

Since Roberta talked about her own preferences, decisions, opinion, ambitions, beliefs, and desires I assumed that she was capable of form these things. However her success in convincing me that she was human and had mental states does not entail that this was true. Since I could only observe Roberta's behavior and was unaware of the causes behind it my judgements were fallible. At this stage a methodological behaviorist would argue that Roberta's behavior is all that a second person, could know about her and therefore it does not make sense for me to discuss her inner states. Although at first this was the case, now that Roberta has been released from the hospital the cause and not just the effects of her behavior are known. An analysis of Roberta's inner states is made possible through the knowledge that her skull is filled by a digital computer that is programmed to control her movements. (356-357).

The doctor that treated Roberta argued that her lack of a brain entails a lack of a mind, which is an essential factor to the possession of mental states. Therefore she is does not have any feelings, beliefs, or preferences. Armstrong's identity theory supports this statement through its claim that the mind is the cause of behavior. However, unlike the doctor this account for mental states is founded upon the belief that the mind is equal to the brain. This claim supports the idea that because Roberta does not have a brain, she does not have a mind. Meaning a person's mental states is identical to their physical brain states. This claim is problematic because even between human brains it does not hold true. In contrast, human brains vary widely in their task structure and organization and each individual brain can change over time. Although computers share this wide variation in how they are programmed to function, Roberta's computer lacks the ability to update without the interference of a programmer adding components. (324-330).

Personally, I believe that the brain is the cause of behavior and the mind is the source of consciousness. Since Roberta has a database, which functions as a control panel for her actions, she can match a human brains capability to perform tasks. Yet, her computer lacks the ability to adapt to all situations. Whereas, a brain can register information in accordance to past experiences, constantly updating and changing their rules for conduct. Although computers can save new data they are incapable of updating it to apply general rules or adhere to exceptions to these rules.

The computer within Roberta's head only has physical components rendering it unable to think, therefore lacking the perception and awareness of its own actions. These deficiencies are what mark Roberta's lack of a mind forcing her to function solely on automatism. Although the computer is inputting sensory data and operating in accordance to the interpretation of this information, it is unaware of its own inputs and operations. In other words Roberta has no consciousness of her actions and the process of interpreting her environment. Therefore, although Roberta can talk about her feelings, beliefs, and preferences she does not actually have any. Turing has argued that emotions are not a requirement for intelligence. However, the word intelligence itself is an ambiguous term and its components are the focus of continuous debate. Also how humans react to their environment is often dictated by their emotions, therefore, it seems problematic for Turing to exclude emotions, which contributes to the accumulation of knowledge, from the resulting intelligence. (324-330).

The doctor's next argument was that Roberta could not have mental states because she is incapable of understanding language. Although she can successfully portray language in a clear and concise form, she has no understanding of what the meaning of her words or thoughts are. Consciousness, as already explained and discussed, is a special type of mental state of perceiving other mental states. For instance, if Roberta had consciousness she would comprehend the meaning behind the complex symbols that make up language. However, all she is doing while speaking is manipulating formal symbols in accordance to a system she has been programmed to follow. Through the reception of information from her perceptual apparatuses she reciprocates by giving out instruction to her motor apparatus without knowing what these instructions are. Unlike with humans, she does not understand anything except the rules that have been programmed into her computer for symbol manipulation. Therefore she has no intentional state regarding the use of language; she can only speak as a result of her electrical wiring and program's instructions to move about certain symbols upon reception of certain cues. (374-375).

My belief that Roberta does not understand the processes she performs is fortified by her lack of intentional behavior. Although, one may assume that a formal program with the right input and output would indicate intentionally, with the knowledge that Roberta has been formally programmed comes a lack of free will. Her inner mechanism that produces her various states of being is simply receiving formal symbols from her sensory receptors and then sending out other symbols to her motor mechanism without interpreting them. This is simply a manipulation of a series of rules controlled by the complex digital computer within her head. The programmer would have only had the knowledge of which operations to perform on which meaningless symbol, this person is completely unaware of what circumstances Roberta will align these symbols and meaning. For instance the programmer will not see what Roberta's programmed visual preceptors encounter; he simply sets the brain to have specific reactions to a wide range of visual encounters. Therefore, as Berkley and Stanford eloquently labeled her, Roberta is only "an ingenious mechanical dummy" and the idea that she could have a mind is unsubstantiated because she is incapable of having any intentions (376). The only source of her purposeful movements is the person that programmed her and not the programmed apparatus itself. Knowing that her behavior is the result of a formal program I feel justified in abandoning the idea that Roberta has any intentions of her own. (375-376).

In conclusion Roberta's ability to successfully masquerade herself as a human being is neither necessary nor sufficient evidence to suppose that she has mental states. The fact that a computer that was programmed independent of her input or knowledge controls her shows that she is incapable of making her own choices. Furthermore, the systematic programming of language shows that she can only manipulate these symbols and does not have a conscious awareness of their meaning. Finally, I believe that she lacks a mind, therefore rendering her unable to possess consciousness. All of these factors contribute to my belief that she does not have mental states.