In science, when you theorize that X reduces to Y, you propose a theory that links X and Y in some causal way. Physicists don't just say, "What you experiences as a gas is really a swarm of fast-moving molecules"; instead, they use statistical mechanics to show that with this theory, the kinetic energy of the molecules, taken in aggregate, can explain gas pressure, temperature, and the ability of expanding gas to do work. Similarly, biologists don't just say, "The apparent design of the various capabilities of the various species can be reduced to a long sequence of random mutations"; instead they offer a theory of natural selection to explain why the adaptions seem to have a purpose, to have function.

The computational theory of mind doesn't seem to have this characteristic. Those who make this claim say, "Our mental states can be reduced to a set of physical states/functional states/some other feature of some sort of computation. Now, clearly this sort of theory has the potential to explain at least some aspects of behavior, but I don't see how it explains anything at all regarding the mind.

When I'm thinking, I generally don't experience anything that I would call algorithmic unless I'm consciously executing an algorithm in my mind. What is the connection from mental states comparable to how statistical mechanics connects molecules to the gas laws or how natural selection connects random mutation to apparent design? Where is the theory about the relationship between computational state X causes desire Y or emotion Z or intention W?

Note, it's not enough to show cognitive studies about how certain chemicals are associated with certain emotions, or activity in certain parts of the brain are associated with certain intentions, or evolution can justify certain desires; those observations/theories still leave an explanatory gap between the physical and the mental. Statistical mechanics shows mathematically how the kinetic energy of many molecules is mathematically equivalent to pressure. Where is that equivalence in computational theories of mind? And without that connection, exactly what is the value of those theories?


I've gotten lots of knowledgeable answers, but none of them really address my question (except the one that says that there is no such explanation). Several of the answers point to non-mental things that can be explained by a computational theory of the brain, but I'm not asking about that. Others have pointed out that there is no other explanation for mental states, but that is no reason to think the computational model is correct if it can't explain anything either. Several people have suggested a two-step process where the brain acts like a computing device and causes mental states, but that's just another way to say that one can model the brain as a computing machine; it doesn't explain how mental states just are some aspect of the computation. In fact, it seems to assume a sort of Cartesian dualism, where the brain does something and the mind is an independent sort of substance that just follows along.

So, once again, I'm not asking about computational models of the brain; I'm asking about computational models of the mind. How is anything that happens in the mind reducible to something that happens by computation.

  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Philosophy Meta, or in Philosophy Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 7:54
  • What "anything that happens in the mind" means in the post is very obscure, assuming the question is non-trivial. Language interpretation, memory queries, association of propositions, action planning, etc., presumably "happen in the mind". How all of that happens is explained in CTM under the hypothesis that mind is a computer (material or not), and AI devices implement it as a confirmation. So it is unclear under what meaning of "mind" and/or "explain" CTM does not "explain anything at all regarding the mind", and what the OP asks for. If it is a theory of qualia that does not come through.
    – Conifold
    Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 12:15
  • Explaining phenomenal consciousness and qualia is not the purpose of CTM in the first place, it is a theory of non-phenomenal aspects of mental activity, such as mental representations and inferencing. Mental states involved may be conscious or unconscious, and hence not experienced. Phenomenal aspects are the subject of higher-order theories of consciousness (HOTC), which are combined with CTM by a number of authors, see SEP.
    – Conifold
    Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 12:40
  • "instead they offer a theory of natural selection" I'm pretty sure that natural selection includes "a long sequence of random mutations" as well as other factors. You seem to be implying that there's some sort of contrast here. There are many non-optimal features of living beings that are not only do not 'have a purpose' or 'have function' but would actually be considered design defects if there were a designer.
    – JimmyJames
    Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 20:38
  • @JimmyJames, I'm not implying a contrast. I'm saying that natural selection is the mechanism that causes random mutations to appear to be a design. Your other comments are completely irrelevant to anything I said. Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 20:59

8 Answers 8


How is anything that happens in the mind reducible to something that happens by computation.

As of 2023, nobody knows how the interesting parts of the mind (i.e., the feeling of "self" or of "being aware") works. You won't get an answer here or anywhere else that does not require either some amount of belief unfounded in logic or objective facts; or the trust that one of our existing theories will eventually be fleshed out fully to explain your questions.

Not a single one of the philosophies of the mind out there are strictly scientifically falsifiable or able to pass skeptical dismemberment like you are doing here. Or put the other way round, as NotThatGuy commented, "evidence supporting [non-dualism] is overwhelming and we have no contrary evidence".

The closest one can (in my opinion and experience) get is to experience the working of the mind carefully, i.e. by meditation, and arrive at the personal belief that non-dualism might be closer to reality than dualism. That still does not give you any clue into how anything works, but it lets one expect (if one makes that experience and is open to the conclusion) that the mind is a part of the regular, physical world, not something "on top" or "aside of" physicality. And once you are convinced that the mind (even though we do not know how) is purely physical, then the conclusion that it is simply evoked by the visible structure of the brain (i.e., neurons, signal propagation, computation) is one which a philosopher can adapt, even without knowing how this gives raise to consciousness or other high-level features of the mind.

Finally, note that the Computational Theory of Mind does not state that the brain is equivalent to what we think of as a computer, but that it is a computational system, i.e. a system (with no specific implementation) which processes information. At first glance, and formalized through the Chinese Room Experiment and other thought experiments, it seems like at least on a high level, this seems like a very easily explained intuition - you can interpret all sensations as input, and all actions as output, and there you then have a perfectly functional computational system (implemented as a black box).

As to what it explains - it does not need to explain anything. As of right now, the mind is firmly in the purview of philosophy, not science. Specifically since you have made abundantly clear that you are not talking about the brain, but the mind. Philosophers are perfectly allowed to wonder about how things work, without any "use" or benefit except thinking about an interesting way to explain the world.


Does the computational theory of mind explain anything?

Obviously. It explains human thought and behavior in terms of physical computation (SEP). Whether or not you like the explanation shouldn't be confused with the fact it is an explanation.

In fact, there simply are no other decent alternatives to the scientifically minded. To explain thought, the Ancient Greeks had the classical elements which are meaningless. Descartes tried to insert an imagined supernatural being into the pineal glad which is silly. The homonculus is at best a clumsy metaphor for a biological control system. At least seeing the brain as an organ that conducts physical computation isn't laughable to the educated mind. Plus it has the upside of being fully friendly to evolutionary thinking as neurons and the endocrine system are explainable in terms of biochemistry.

Is computationalism fully explanatory? Obviously not. It gets somethings right, like providing a scientific basis for psycholinguistics, for instance. Plus, it has the added benefit of being consistent with computational neuroscience. What other alternative is there for trying to explain phenomenalism? Vitalism? Voodoo? Golem magic? Mythical gods?

observations/theories still leave an explanatory gap between the physical and the mental.

Yes. Duly noted decades ago by Chalmers. Your entire post might be called an introduction the hard problem. And even though the issues you raise are well subsumed by Chalmers, he himself doesn't retreat from the notion that the mind and body can be reconciled and that computation plays a role in explanation. He simply accepts property dualism. But what he doesn't do is declare the notion of thought as mental computation as meaningless. That a Turing Machine is an abstraction of a human mathematician means that we shouldn't view human thought as a synonymous with the modern von Neumann architecture; it clearly isn't. But that connectionism supports both analog and digital computation, and that symbolic systems can be seen as special cases of connectionism means that neurons (and biochemical processes of the endocrine system) clearly have an explanatory role in thought. Whether one wants to add more exotic notions to computation like quantum entanglement or that connectionist models should be treated as instances of analog computing instead of digital computation doesn't get away from the core premise that human thought is essentially tied to physical computation.

Where is the theory about the relationship between computational state X causes desire Y or emotion Z or intention W?

It's right here. It's called the somatic marker hypothesis:

"Somatic markers" are feelings in the body that are associated with emotions, such as the association of rapid heartbeat with anxiety or of nausea with disgust. According to the hypothesis, somatic markers strongly influence subsequent decision-making. Within the brain, somatic markers are thought to be processed in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) and the amygdala.

You're right to claim you don't introspect your neurons or your limbic system functioning, because, evolutionary, that would be stupid to provide your conscious mind that information. Neural reentry serves the purpose of providing a control system to keep the systems of an organism moving in the same direction to survive, not providing a catalog of experience of the full body's function for your philosophical curiosity. Just because you can't witness your amygdala functioning consciously by internally visualizing a stream of non-ordinary differential equations doesn't mean that the it isn't a lump of tissue that can be modeled used theoretical neuroscience. Take a lesson from Descartes. He comes across as arrogant to think that his personal introspection is somehow an authoritative source on truth in the universe. It clearly wasn't. Nobody's is. That sort of certainty died with Hume's argument of inductive fallibilism.

Has computationalism moved beyond first generation cognitive science to embrace connectionism? Yes. Might it move into a third, fourth, and fifth generation? Probably. But it ain't going anywhere because metaphysical speculation based on emotional personal introspection is a defective remedy for ignorance, and the slow churn of the scientific methods will chip away at the problems continuing to move philosophical questions into the domain of the sciences.

  • 2
    "It explains human thought and behavior in terms of physical computation". Then why doesn't your answer provide any such explanation? This isn't a matter of my not liking an explanation, it is a matter of you not providing one. Personally, I don't like the statistical mechanical explanation and I'm not persuaded by the natural selection explanation, but they are clearly explanations. What in the field of computational models of mind is such an explanation? Lots of people have tried to answer. Not one person has given anything like the examples I provided in the question. Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 22:04
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    What you understand as qualia are psychological manifestations of visual computation conducted starting with the retina and optic nerve moving through the visual cortex and ultimately into the neocortex and regions of the brain correlated with conscious experience. In fact, the three classic dimensions of space may be nothing more than the linear basis of integrating two two-dimensional surfaces of the eyes...
    – J D
    Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 14:56
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    Everything you are phenomenologically and introspect seem likely to come from the cellular foundation of the body particularly with the brain. Psychological visual perception reduces to the structured computations of the visual system. Human Perception of Visual Information: Psychological and Computational Perspectives
    – J D
    Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 14:59
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    Computationalism also explains language faculty. The Oxford Handbook of Psycholinguistics. Language and sight are two very important aspects of phenomenological experience. The other senses including motor coordination yield accordingly.
    – J D
    Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 15:05
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    I am speaking phenomenally, using language that is accessible to everyone regardless of their metaphysical commitments. You are responding using metaphysically loaded language that is only accessible to people who share your metaphysical commitments. Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 16:40

You are correct that we have no reason to even speculate that "quality" can emerge out of abstract information. This is because not a single mathematical structure has been known to derive a "qualitative" aspect. If you have an axiomatic structure, you can infer other mathematical truths from it. That is the closest thing to an "emergent phenomenon" that you have in mathematics. So, "quality is an emergent phenomenon" is just a bunch of hand-wave with no meaning, as there is no such thing as "quality" in the framework of mathematics.

With that said, I want to point out that the usual approach of computationalism is to say that "qualia don't exist". That is, right now you have immediate access to abstract information about sound and colors and that the information has no qualitative aspect to it. A computationalist can always just say that they themselves only have access to "information" and you would have no way to prove them wrong.

However, to those of us who do not deny qualia, computationalism puts the cart before the horse. This is because we take qualia as things that we know to exist first and foremost. Physics is something that we derive from our subjective experience by filtering out the qualitative aspects and by trying represent our knowledge using symbols. To test physics, we have to map these symbols back to aspects of our subjective experience.

Computationalism then asserts that this filtered out product is the only thing that exists and that the original source was an illusion. This, of course, puts the cart before the horse. And it is probably also factually wrong as it is the standard viewpoint among physicists that there is no final model of physics

  • Why would no "final model" of physics make CTM factually wrong, especially any more so than qualia? And how would you know qualia exists first and foremost with our current understanding of human knowledge (unless you just mean that's a base assumption in that framework that isnt necessarily true in reality, the same as "qualia don't exist" to a computationalist).
    – JMac
    Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 13:07
  • 1
    @JMac I did not say that it'd make computationalism more wrong than qualia. I just said that it'd make computationalism wrong because it implies that no computation can capture all properties of the world. About the second question, I did say that it depends on whether or not you deny qualia exist. Neither viewpoint can be proved true or false to anyone else. I believe in my viewpoint because I can personally experience qualia. So I know that we arrive at physics by mapping the qualitative aspects of our experience, like space, time, shapes etc, to symbols.
    – Ryder Rude
    Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 13:37
  • "I just said that it'd make computationalism wrong because it implies that no computation can capture all properties of the world." Why would the world need to be fully captured by computations for the mind to be computational? CTM is about the mind computing from limited information, the theory doesnt suggest perfectly accurate computation.
    – JMac
    Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 13:57
  • 1
    @JMac I have no problem with computationalism as a "model" to be able to approximately predict the behavior of the mind, by using the correlation between mind and brain. This application is a merit of computationalism. It would just fail as an exhaustive description of the mind if there's no final physics model. It is standard in physics that laws are the same everywhere locally. This means that if any theory is approximate for the world, it is approximate for the mind too. To claim otherwise would be clutching for straws.
    – Ryder Rude
    Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 14:03
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    @Graham You are saying that transcendental idealism or Solipsism are disproven because physics requires objective existence. It has been established for centuries that Solipsism is unfalsifiable. A physicist would say the same. Physics only models things that are observable, in principle. The error correction is part of the modelling. For instance, one thing an error correction can do is to statistically model discrepancies in repeated measurements. This does not assume objective existence. "Objective world" is useful to think about, but it's not something that can be known.
    – Ryder Rude
    Commented Apr 12, 2023 at 0:44

A great question! And no, I don't think the computational theory explains much :) Even though technically valid, it's too general a description to be useful. It's like describing an mp3 player (remember those?) as a computer that runs algorithms. Even though it is and it does, it might be more helpful to describe it as a record player (and, as such, no different from a cassette player that is perfectly analog and computes nothing).

Applying the same logic to the human mind, one could say, for example, that a neural network (whether artificial or inside a human head) runs statistical analysis and statistical inference, not algorithms. One could also propose that neural network's purpose is to distill experience (its training) into John Locke's "simple ideas" (or Kant, I believe, called them "intuitions", or data scientists call them "models").

And that's what Daniel Kahneman's System 1 is, essentially -- a very deep neural network.

As for Kahneman's System 2 (our rational mind), it's more akin to a laptop running a role-playing game: Its purpose is to visualize the Reality, including its internal operation, in 3-D. That's how we understand things, by discovering (through continuous attempts to visualize) interactive models1 of them. Unlike our laptops, however, our System 2 doesn't come preinstalled with its copy of the Simulation. So, instead, we've evolved to spend extra 5-7 years in childhood -- so that each human child could assemble2 their own copy, piece by piece and under the guidance of knowledgeable and supportive adults, as well as older children.

And that's what we could do better, our educational system: Teach every child the art of understanding (the art of "driving" their System 2) more intentionally and systematically. As it stands, it's touch and go.


1 Or Locke's complex ideas.

2 The Ancient Greek word for the Simulation was Logos -- and it's a derivative from an even older verb lego, which means "to assemble".

  • 3
    "Even though technically valid". We don't know that computationalism is valid, even in principle. We do know that the kinetic theory of gases can can derive the macroscopic behavior of gases.
    – Ryder Rude
    Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 9:04
  • "Even though technically valid": what does that mean? Do you mean that the computation theory of mind is necessarily true? If so, why would you think so, given that it can't explain anything? Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 9:06
  • 1
    +1 for improving education. Maybe if we did that well enough, the theories would be found.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 10:20
  • 1
    @DavidGudeman -- If I understand your question, by "technically valid" I meant that computational theory correctly describes human mind as a machine. This is far from obvious because most of brain machinery "hides" in subconsciousness, and we only become aware of its output -- feelings, thoughts, intuitions -- popping out of nowhere as if by magic. It's not magic though. It's always a result of some computational process, if unconscious. Does this makes sense? Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 18:12
  • 2
    @YuriZavorotny, yes that makes sense, but it's a mere unevidenced claim being stated as a fact. If computation can't explain anything about the human mind, what evidence is there that the human mind is a machine? Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 18:16

At this point in time, i am not aware of a single complete unifying computational model of mind. Instead "Computational model of mind" seems more of a paradigm expecting that an actual model of mind will be invented one day.

As a paradigm, computational models seek to offer an explanation to limitations and disturbances of mind. Like why we sleep, why we dream, why our mind works different under the influence of drugs, how we can learn faster, we we suffer optical illusions, why it's difficult for most to learn and apply maths (but easy for some), why some people are significantly less able to solve problems or live independently, and so on.

As a paradigm for explanation of the mind, it seems like the only materialistic alternative, all other explanations of mind would be dualist and use "magic", and thus not explain anything in a better way unless magic was real and properly understood.

Most generally, such a paradigm explains why the mind can do all things a computer can do (while not yet explaining the things the mind seem to be able to beyond that). As in "why can minds do number calculations? Because minds are partly like computers."

However this does not imply the mind is a computer with all properties, only that such abilities are explainable by considering the mind as partly a "weak" computer for such tasks.

Some other things that could be considered "explained" are: why it takes time to get a joke, or do calculations, why sometimes we fail to remember a thing we know, the effects of split brain experiments, why mind is developed by schooling. If mind were just magic, those things would lack for a reason. A magic mind has no obstacle to flawlessly always remember everything, do perfect math, come to conclusions instantly, become developed without school, function as a unity with a split brain.

A paradigm without any complete unifying model is unsatisfying, but not unusual as a way to cope with limited observability.

As an example mankind already had paradigms of biology without microscopes, of geology without long distance travel, of cosmology without telescopes, of atoms, of the weather, of evolution, ... Any such early paradigm would define expectations of how a future model might explain observations.

  • So, since we can't explain minds now any better than we understood the weather hundreds of years ago, maybe expecting good paradigms and theories is unreasonable?
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 10:16
  • "such a paradigm explains why the mind can do all things a computer can do" But a mind can't do all of the things a computer can do. Not even close. Nor is there any evidence that a computer can do many things a mind can do. If there were, that would answer my question. Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 19:11
  • 1
    @DavidGudeman A mind with access to paper and pencil can do everything a computer with access to RAM can do.
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 20:59
  • @wizzwizz4, you are assuming an ideal mind with infinite time. I'm talking about real minds with real restrictions. Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 22:00
  • A mind needs not be able to do anything a computer can do in the same amount of time or at the same precision. My point is for such operations as arithmetics or logic, mind can be assumed reducable to (weak) computers, thus not requiring supernatural properties to make the ability of the mind plausible.
    – tkruse
    Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 22:19

What it's attempting to explain is "why some thoughts take longer than others" (insert appropriate epistemic caveats here; it's been a long time since I've approached philosophy in anything resembling an academic context).

Clearly this is empirically true. Even for the same thought, "4 x 6 = 24" takes longer for a child to grasp initially than after they've memorized it. And it similarly takes slightly longer to figure out "4 x 6 x 25" than "1 x 2 x 3".

The attempt to generalize this to everything in the brain being some sort of computation may come from the observation that there are only so many different kinds of neuron in the brain, and neuron activation looks awfully similar to the things you can do with logic gates.

Where the computational theories are weakest is in my view is qualia, in similar fashion to behaviorism (as per Ryder's answer). Qualia are treated as a side effect, though I suppose there is the possibility of them being treated as "subtle information changes".

This may be testable in the near-ish future by observing whether, or to what degree, "smart" prosthetic or otherwise inorganic programmable augmentations (for instance, cars) can transmit qualia of the kind we'd expect from introspection.

Cars pretty obviously transmit qualia in the sense of "your visual field changes when you drive them somewhere" and "there's vibration you feel through the seat while they're on", but there's definitely something incomplete in that explanation. You can walk away from a car, after all. On the other hand, lobotomies and (color)blindness illustrate that the brain is also not inviolable, and that qualia can be changed or even removed without also removing their recipient entirely.

(If an afterlife exists, qualia don't even need a brain, but a computationalist might point out that the types of signal, and thus qualia, received without a brain are going to be very, very limited.)

  • This answer seems to be very cavalier about the difference between the brain and the mind. The question was about the mind, not the brain. Also, the reason longer arithmetic problems take longer is because when you do such a problem, you are implementing an algorithm in your head. This is conscious computation, not unconscious computation as the theory requires. Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 18:35
  • I mean, the brain and the mind may not be identical, but they're very clearly closely related, because we can demonstrably induce changes in one via the other (going from mind-to-brain is trickier to observe alone without an MRI or similar, but if you're satisfied with mind-to-body, just about any decision will do). Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 18:55
  • As for conscious versus unconscious computation, "implement an algorithm in your subconscious" isn't exactly an outlandish stretch from "implement an algorithm via conscious thought". All it requires is to say that not all computations necessarily generate qualia (and indeed the ones that don't may be more efficient, given that "sleep on it" is often useful advice). Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 19:00
  • The brain and the mind obviously are related, but they are not remotely similar to each other. The body and mind are also closely related, but few would say that they are similar in any way. The computational theory of mind purports to reduce mind to some aspect of computation. This is different from the theory that neural activity in the brain can be modeled as a highly parallel computation device. That theory is either trivially true or probably false, depending on how widely you define "computational device". Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 19:04
  • 1
    Your question, as stated, was whether computational theories of mind explained anything, not whether they explain everything. I don't think they explain qualia very well, but that's not the point of them. To the extent that they're intended to explain anything, as best I can tell it's "why some thoughts take longer (or are otherwise less easily-thought) than others". And there the answer is a reasonably-straightforward "because the hard-to-think thoughts take more computation". Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 19:17

You may have some questionable ideas about how science and philosophy works, and what the computational theory of mind is.

The computational theory of mind states that the human mind is an information processing system and that cognition and consciousness together are a form of computation. Given the evidence we have, this seems to be the most likely explanation for consciousness, of the explanations available (of which there aren't all that many).

Evolution seems like the most likely explanation given the evidence of the genetic variation between different generations of organisms.

General relativity seems like the most likely explanation given the evidence of the movement of physical objects.

And so on.

That's pretty much what scientific theories are: the most likely explanation for some evidence.

"When I'm thinking, I generally don't experience anything that I would call algorithmic unless I'm consciously executing an algorithm in my mind"

The computational theory of mind states that even your emotions would be computational, regardless of whether or not it feels like they are.

"It's not enough to show cognitive studies about how certain chemicals are associated with certain emotions, or activity in certain parts of the brain are associated with certain intentions, or evolution can justify certain desires"

Those all form part of the evidence supporting the computational theory of mind, and do seem like sufficient evidence to accept the theory.

Which other theory better explains those things? If there is no such theory, we should provisionally accept the computational theory of mind.

"Those observations/theories still leave an explanatory gap between the physical and the mental"

Much of science leaves explanatory gaps.

General relativity, for example, proposes that every physical object warps spacetime around it, which results in objects moving towards one another. But we don't know what exactly spacetime is (if it is anything more than just space, and time), or why it gets warped by objects.

This is just how we discover knowledge: we get more and more knowledge, one bit at a time. There will always be some gaps between the bits we know.

"I'm not asking about computational models of the brain; I'm asking about computational models of the mind"

I'm not aware of any computational models of the mind that's distinct from the brain.

We have no clear or definitive evidence to suggest that there is some element of human consciousness that's distinct from the brain. People making claims of such things also typically claim that such things are outside the realm of scientific enquiry, and that the lack of evidence is a feature rather than a bug.

"The mind is an independent sort of substance that just follows along" - this seems to add an unnecessary hypothesis. You might as well just... not have a hypothesis that the mind exists, and you wouldn't lose any explanatory power.

Mind-body dualism is a philosophical idea that's getting less and less plausible as we discover more and more about reality and the brain.

"Exactly what is the value of those theories?"

A scientific theory is a statement about what is (to the best of our knowledge) true. It's not a statement about what information is useful or has value. Whether or not a scientific theory is useful is a different question entirely.

Although the implications of our consciousness being nothing more than firing neurons would (or should) be quite significant to religion, as much of religion relies on some sort of "soul" that exists outside the body.

It could also be applicable to the ethics of artificial intelligence at some point in the (likely distant, or only hypothetical) future, because one could argue that humans deserve human rights due to our consciousness, and a machine with a functionally identical consciousness should therefore be given similar rights.

This would also suggest that the philosophical concept of free will doesn't exist, which may have implications for how we think about justice. If someone's actions is nothing more than a product of their biology and environment, it would make sense to focus on rehabilitation and what would minimise future harm, rather than punishment.

It may also have consequences for the diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses and other mental conditions. If we accept that some harmful impulses are part of someone else, and they have no choice in the matter, medical treatment that would suppress those impulses (or just therapy) may be more appealing than if we were to consider those impulses to be them freely choosing to act in that way (even if suppression-based medical treatment doesn't have the best history).

  • "Which other theory better explains those things?" CTM doesn't explain those things either, as has become apparent from all of these hand-waving answers to my question. "We have no evidence to suggest that there is some element of human consciousness that's distinct from the brain." We have enormous evidence of this. Just because you find the evidence unconvincing doesn't make it non-evidence. "The mind is an independent sort of substance that just follows along" This wasn't my proposition; it was my analysis of someone else's argument. Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 14:26
  • In that reply, there is not one even half-hearted attempt to show how CTM explains anything mental. This seems to be typical of the CTM crowd. All of the arguments in favor of it reduce to "It must be true because what else could be true?" The same people are (justifiably) contemptuous when theists make the same sort of argument with respect to God. Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 14:31
  • @DavidGudeman CTM is closer to arguments used to reject (or fail to accept) God claims, rather than to argue for God. Accepting CTM means not accepting any claims of supernatural consciousness that isn't sufficiently supported by evidence, which is similar to how skeptical atheists wouldn't accept any claims of supernatural anything that isn't sufficiently supported by evidence. It's not a conclusive statement that no such things exist, it's refraining from adding poorly-supported hypotheses that provide no explanatory power.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 15:29
  • @DavidGudeman "CTM doesn't explain those things either" - of course it does. It doesn't tell us what every neuron in the brain does, but CTM would make sense of why certain regions of the brain are responsible for certain cognitive processes, and why brain chemicals have various effects, and why cognitive processes are heavily influenced by evolution. Never mind that we can actually physically see neurons, and that neuron-based AI demonstrates surprisingly complex behaviour. Trying to explain these things with mind-body dualism leads to a lot of problems or just hand-waving.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 15:46
  • Once again, you are talking about the brain, not the mind. Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 16:33

What is the connection from mental states comparable to how statistical mechanics connects molecules to the gas laws or how natural selection connects random mutation to apparent design?

The brain has far more parameters than an ideal gas or a model in population genetics, so instead of something analytic, analogous to the equipartition theorem or Price equation, you might only ever have something numerical or black-box, as in machine learning.

Where is the theory about the relationship between computational state X causes desire Y or emotion Z or intention W?

You want computationalism to explain behavioural states, as well as mental states. Gilbert Ryle's behaviourism aside, you'll say there's more to having a mind than acting like a p-zombie. To a computationalist, what more there is concerns which computations are which mental states, which is a separate task from connecting computations to physics, which is what I'll focus on.

As a warm-up, we claim the audiovisual output of my phone, and its response to external stimuli such as someone else ringing it, are explicable in terms of computation. This explains how apps written in code let it do new things, how video playback gets every pixel right, and so on. It also implies a property dualism hardware/software distinction analogous to the brain/mind distinction. Physical laws don't explain the logic of programming languages, but they explain how particles ensure the phone obeys the code.

An expert can say code converts as thus to binary, which manipulates the semiconductor as thus. To do as much with the brain, we'd have to e.g. know the physics of its running in binary or another digital base or analog. Here are analogies to programming we'd need:

  • What are the software's standard data types and how are they stored and edited?
  • What chunking of concepts makes sense to describe the programming in terms of high-level languages? (The implications for bit manipulation of Python -> C -> Assembly -> Machine code -> Binary might not be close to what the brain does, but if it is we could describe the behaviour in something closer to English than binary.)

It would be nice if we could "read the source code" (like this joke?), but we can only look at how the brain forms and behaves. Our phones ultimately run on physics to avoid an infinite regress of the form, "to run software A it needs to first run software B". Maybe neurology can find similar facts.

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