I read Pinker's How the Mind Works a few years back, and a thought occurred to me that I couldn't find in the two serious reviews (Fodor and somebody else, I forget)I dredged up afterwards.

If one's brain is made up of modules- substructures specialised by evolution 
to process different data, does that imply that certain of one's experiences are
ineffable indivisibles?

My rationale, very roughly, is that if processing is, so to speak, a series of monologues in diverse and disjoint tongues, this would be consistent with (imply?) the qualia hypothesis. For me this is the reason why massive modularity is untenable, as for various reasons I would not touch any qualia-driven theory of the mind with a barge pole.

Is my hunch in any way tenable? Has anyone put forward such a contention seriously?

  • 1
    It strikes me what's perhaps missing about this explanation is the hierarchy involved in neural architecture; it's certainly modular, but these modules aren't all at the same 'level' -- there are 'more' and 'less' high-level or abstract functional regions of the brain involved in any particular act of cognition.
    – Joseph Weissman
    Commented Mar 8, 2012 at 23:11
  • In passing, so far as Pinker is more perhaps more of a cognitive scientist than a philosopher per se, this may be more appropriate for the Cognitive Sciences SE (it sounds like you may be interested to know about its existence either way, but let me know if you'd like me to facilitate migrating this that way -- if of course the core concern is more properly cogsci than philosophy)
    – Joseph Weissman
    Commented Mar 8, 2012 at 23:14

1 Answer 1


Your postulate is not a tautology: whether or not one's brain is made up of modules, if the module computes both some aspect of an experience and a verbalization thereof, then the experience would be effable. There is nothing about the concept of specialized modules that prevent this kind of dual structure. Thus, one must refer to additional evidence to confirm or deny your postulate.

If you want to know whether the brain actually is made up of modules, we don't yet know enough to say for certain, but see books by Oliver Sacks and V.S. Ramachandran for extensive evidence that there are very specific functions executed by certain portions of the brain. There isn't much evidence for verbalization distributed on a per-module basis; lesions in Broca's area suggest the opposite, actually.

If you want to know whether certain experiences are ineffable, that will depend on what you count as experiences. Given that your behavior can be altered by things you are not aware of, the answer is presumably "yes".

I'm not sure where that leaves your hunch, though an apt summary might be, "Cognitive science is messy, and details matter."

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