The Homunculus Problem

From: Perry, Yvonne (
Date: Sat May 25 1996 - 14:23:02 BST

What is the homunculus problem?

The homunculus problem is basically "Do we need a homunculus for
understanding imagery?" A homunculus is the idea of a little man in our
heads which sees the images (and words) we see and understands these
words and images for us. The problem Behaviourists saw with this
contention is that it is not an expanation of how we understand
imagery, it is just a repetition of the original problem.

Theorists such as Remez believe that our imagery detecting functions are so
complex that they require something such as the homunculus to process them.
Theorists such as Fodor believe that we rely on our homunculi do do our
cognition for us. However, not everyone agrees that a homunculus is
necessary for seeing images.

Artificial intelligence is often cited as an example of how the
homunculus is not necessary. The problem with the homunculus is that it
never comes up with computation. It just happens. When faced with the
propostion: "John is taller than Mary. Jill is shorter than Mary." if
we are then asked "Who's taller- John or Jill?" we may conclude that we
require a homunculus to work out the problem as it requires us
envisaging the characters. However, if we used dolls to make a PHYSICAL
comparison we are discharging the homunculus.

Behaviourists believe that processing the problem in the head is no
good. They do not believe in the homunculus. Proposionalists believe
that it is acceptible to work out the problem in one's head, but also
that we should get rid of the homunculus.

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