Who's afraid of multiple realizability?: Functionalism, reductionism, and connectionism

In J. Dinsmore (ed.), The Symbolic and Connectionist Paradigms: Closing the Gap. Lawrence Erlbaum (1992)
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Philosophers have argued that on the prevailing theory of mind, functionalism, the fact that mental states are multiply realizable or can be instantiated in a variety of different physical forms, at least in principle, shows that materialism or physical is probably false. A similar argument rejects the relevance to psychology of connectionism, which holds that mental states are embodied and and constituted by connectionist neural networks. These arguments, I argue, fall before reductios ad absurdam, proving too much -- they apply as well to genes, which are multiply realizable, but the reduction of which to DNA is one the core cases of scientific reductive explanation, a reduction if anything is. I suggest that psychology, like biology, be what I call "provincialized," abandon claims to universal validity, except as an idealization, and treat different classes of cognizers differently from an an explanatory perspective. This would permit specifies specific, or more precisely, provincial reductions of different psychologies that might be multiply realized if such reductions were available. Connectionism may be the foundation of a reduction of human psychology, and thus biology and connectionism retain their relevance to psychology, and physicalism or materialism is consistent with functionalism.
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