Functionalism agrees that brain states are responsible for mental states, but disagrees that they are identical with them. To do this, functionalists argue that neurological states or brain activity help to realize mental states, which then lead to behavior. This argument proposes that brain states are ‘low level’ activities that help realize ‘high level’ mental states. To help understand this idea I will use the usual Functionalist example of a computer. Imagine that you ask a computer to add the numbers 3 and 7.
On one level (the low level) what is happening in the computer is dependent on the hardware; on the other level (the high level) the computer’s software is calculating the answer. The Functionalist argues that the process of calculation is simply released by the hardware. Therefore, the software is a function of the hardware. We can take our computer example and translate that into terms of the brain. Mental states are dependent upon brain states in the same way that the functions of a computer program are dependent upon computer hardware. The way Functionalists speak about this is to say that brain states help to realize mental states and that the mind is in fact a total functional system.
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By this they mean that a mind is made up of the total possible functional (mental) states that it can have and that these interact with the “inputs” and each other in order to produce “outputs.” Functionalists say that if we think of mental states in this way then it is possible that there may one day be a machine that can think, or be artificially intelligent (or AI).
In this way, the process of thinking would be comparable to a computer program that could run on different types of machine. Artificial Intelligence is the concept that it is possible for a machine to think. The two main types of AI are called strong and weak.
Strong AI argues that it is possible that one day a computer will be invented which can be called a mind in the fullest sense of the word. In other words, it can think, reason, imagine, etc. , and do all the things that we currently associate with the human brain. Weak AI, on the other hand, argues that computers can only appear to think and are not actually conscious in the same way as human brains are. The English mathematician Alan Turing developed a test where he argued the question of artificial intelligence. The test is based on something called ‘The Imitation Game’ in which three people, each in separate rooms, communicate by teletype (or some other mechanical means).
Each of the three people has a specific role: one acts as an interrogator whose job it is to find out what sex the other two people are; the other two (one man and one woman) one whose role it is to answer honestly and the other to answer dishonestly. The interrogator must answer the interrogator’s questions, one honestly and one dishonestly. Turing’s version of this game involves replacing one of the people with a computer that has been programmed to deceive the interrogator. If, as with a human subject, the interrogator was deceived a certain percentage of the time (for example lets just say 70%) then the machine can be said to have passed the test. Therefore, the machine would be deemed conscious and intelligent. Unfortunately, there currently exists no computer that can get anywhere near passing this test.
This is because any interrogator would find it easy to devise questions which a machine would have difficulty answering. One criticism of Functionalism focuses on the idea that according to such a view of the mind it is possible to imagine zombie-like, non-conscious creatures that do not possess qualia. Non-functionalists argue that these creatures, while fitting the Functionalist criteria for possessing a mind, could not be said to be human in the full sense. Which would thereby imply that the Functionalist view is insufficient. Another problem that non-functionalists argue involves Functionalism’s definition of what a mind consists of. Since, according to Functionalism, all that is needed to define a mind is that certain functional roles are fulfilled by certain parts; there is no need for the mind to be made out of anything in particular.
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In that case, we could use such a definition and apply it to machines, aliens, animals, and much more. Functionalism attempts to overcome some of the problems with Identity Theory and Behaviorism to forge them into a new, materialist view of the mind. In doing this it uses a computer model, which describes the mind as a total functional system. In other words, it is like the calculations and rules that make up a software program that can be run on any machine. As a result, Functionalism creates arguments for AI and provokes counter-arguments from those opposed to the possibility of AI.