Reductionism ad absurdum: Attneave and Dennett cannot reduce Homunculus (and hence the mind)

Kybernetes 47:163-185 (2018)
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Purpose – Neuroscientists act as proxies for implied anthropomorphic signal- processing beings within the brain, Homunculi. The latter examine the arriving neuronal spike-trains to infer internal and external states. But a Homunculus needs a brain of its own, to coordinate its capabilities – a brain that necessarily contains a Homunculus and so on indefinitely. Such infinity is impossible – and in well-cited papers, Attneave and later Dennett claim to eliminate it. How do their approaches differ and do they (in fact) obviate the Homunculi? Design/methodology/approach – The Attneave and Dennett approaches are carefully scrutinized. To Attneave, Homunculi are effectively “decision-making” neurons that control behaviors. Attneave presumes that Homunculi, when successively nested, become successively “stupider”, limiting their numbers by diminishing their responsibilities. Dennett likewise postulates neuronal Homunculi that become “stupider” – but brain-wards, where greater sophistication might have been expected. Findings – Attneave’s argument is Reductionist and it simply assumes-away the Homuncular infinity. Dennett’s scheme, which evidently derives from Attneave’s, ultimately involves the same mistakes. Attneave and Dennett fail, because they attempt to reduce intentionality to non-intentionality. Research limitations/implications – Homunculus has been successively recognized over the centuries by philosophers, psychologists and (some) neuroscientists as a crucial conundrum of cognitive science. It still is. Practical implications – Cognitive-science researchers need to recognize that Reductionist explanations of cognition may actually devolve to Homunculi, rather than eliminating them. Originality/value – Two notable Reductionist arguments against the infinity of Homunculi are proven wrong. In their place, a non-Reductionist treatment of the mind, “Emergence”, is discussed as a means of rendering Homunculi irrelevant.

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