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Constructing Sandcastles Out of Mud

Constructing Sandcastles Out of Mud

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Published by Bryan Kennedy
Why the Inverted Spectrum argument does not adequately disprove functionalism
Why the Inverted Spectrum argument does not adequately disprove functionalism

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Published by: Bryan Kennedy on Mar 07, 2007
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Constructing Sandcastles Out Of Mud
Why the Inverted Spectrum argument does not adequately disprove functionalism
Bryan Kennedy
Philosophy of MindProf. John Searle7/29/03
The Inverted Spectrum argument is one of the primary critiques opposing thefunctionalist theory of mind. But what exactly is this argument, and why is it considereda decisive case against functionalism? In this essay, I will answer these questions, andattempt to demonstrate why the Inverted Spectrum argument does not adequately refutethe functionalist position. I will do this by holding that functionalism can account for thehypothetical situation posed by the argument, and demonstrating that the condition it proposes could not exist in the world.Color is integral to our daily lives. Every object that we observe and interact withhas a color – the apple on my desk is green, my keyboard is a silvery blue, and mycomputer screen glows with a vibrant array of hues. For each color that I see, Iexperience an inner feeling, or 
, whenever I view it that is distinct from all theother colors that I can perceive or imagine.In the theory of functionalism, minds operate through a step-by-step interactionwith their environment. That is, mental states are described through their relation to threemain states: 1) sensory input, 2) internal states or qualia, and 3) external states or  behavior. Mental life, according to functionalist theory, works much like that of amathematical algorithm – external experiences, combined with various internal mentaloperations, lead to behavioral outputs (Lewis, 1980). A functionalist would assert thatwhen I see a green object, my mind first experiences the sensory input as photons of lightdetected by my eyes. In turn, this input is converted into various internal mental states,such as a quale of greenness, which is perhaps connected to further mental qualia (
nature, good, edible
). All of these qualia eventually give rise to my behavioral effects, such asexclaiming “Now that’s a green Granny Smith!”But what if my green quale is not the same as yours? It seems plausible to suggestthat we both might see the same object, and react in the same way, but have completelydifferent internal states. Since the underlying basis of functionalism is that of causalrelations, would that not throw off the functionalist equation? Enter the InvertedSpectrum argument; while it takes on many different forms, the fundamental situation it proposes is this: Consider the case of Sally Invert. From the outside, Sally appears to be a perfectly normal student at Cal: she hangs out with her friends, watches action-adventuremovies, and does all of her Philosophy of Mind reading. Essentially, her “input” and2
“output” are functionally indistinguishable from that of her peers. But our Sally isdifferent because she has inverted vision. Her reds are greens, her yellows, blues. Sure,the sight of a beautiful summer sunset brings tears to her eyes and conjures up happymemories of childhood; but to her, the most salient color of the setting sun is a deep,vibrant green, which fades into a pale, darkening yellow. Nonetheless, when describingthe sunset, she is indistinguishable from her peers; her yellow quale is perfectly linked tothe word “blue”, her green quale, perfectly linked to “red”. Thus no one, including her, isaware of her unfortunate condition (Searle, 1992).Assuming for a moment that this is indeed an accurate description of Sally’squalia, the functionalist equation breaks; not only does she receive the same input as youand I, but her behavior is identical to ours. Thus, the functionalist contention that her internal states are the same as ours is flawed, since there is nothing else “entering into”the equation that could counteract the difference. This train of thought leads us to theconclusion that there must be something else going on in Sally’s mind other than simplecausal algorithms. On the surface, this is a strong argument against the functionalisttheory of mind, but I am not so easily convinced.On first blush, the argument itself seems plausible. Everyone at one time or another has wondered if they might see colors differently than the rest of the world – after all, if “green” is simply a linguistic translation of our mental qualia, it seems plausible tosuggest that my “green” is your “red”, and vice versa. Assuming for a moment thatindeed such a case exists in the real world, I will show that a color distinction of this sortis of no consequence to the functionalist theory of mind.In the perfect fingerpaint world of a kindergartener’s imagination, colors do havedirect mappings: blue goes with yellow, and green goes with red. But what is a color wheel anyway, other than the imperfect realization of color for artistic purposes? Andwhat are colors really, beyond our internal representations of the external world? Aregreen trees actually “green”, blue cars really “blue”, or red sunsets truly “red”? No, inreality, colors causally reduce to their photonic properties – it is we who ascribe meaningto these properties. Certainly, it is quite easy to imagine (and in fact name) creatures thatdo not share our same sensitivity to light. Snakes, for instance, are capable of perceivinginfrared light, and cats, it is known, cannot easily differentiate between red and green3

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