Computationalism: Still Cool After All These Years

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ASSC Conference Item
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Computational Nueroscience
computation computationalism information-processing
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5-8 June 2009
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ASSC Conference
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In this talk, I want to systematically review the motivations for having a computational theory of consciousness to see if they turn out to be no longer plausible in the light of recent criticisms. These criticisms focus on the alleged inability of computational theories to deal with qualia, or qualities of experience (or objects of experience in some accounts), and with so-called symbol grounding on the other hand. Yet it seems that computationalism remains the best play in town when one wants to explain and predict the dynamics of information processing of cognitive systems. Conscious information processing does not seem to be explainable better within any other framework; computationalism regarding consciousness can only be discarded by supposing that consciousness is epiphenomenal in information processing. I will argue that recent theories of consciousness that are to deal with the so-called hard problem of consciousness remain in their core computational if they do not subscribe to epiphenomenalism. For example, the quantum theory as proposed by Stuart Hameroff remains openly computational; the same goes for pan(proto)panpsychist speculation of David Chalmers. The qualitative character of information processing that Chalmers takes to explain the existence of subjective experience piggy-backs, so to say, on the very fact that there is information processing that is best explained in a computationalist framework. I will also briefly show that other alternative accounts of consciousness (such as direct theories of consciousness) that were supposed to oppose computational and functionalist conceptions are not only compatible with them but require them to begin with. In short, to discard credentials of computationalism in consciousness research one would have to show that it's possible to explain conscious information-processing mechanisms sufficiently in a non-computational way. And this has not been done by any of the critics of computational accounts. This all doesn't suggest, though, that computational explanation is sufficient for building a complete theory of consciousness; it might however be necessary.
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