Re: The Homunculus Problem

From: Harnad, Stevan (
Date: Sat Mar 08 1997 - 18:48:14 GMT

> From: McKee, Alex <>
> So the assumption is that if sentences, for example, are represented
> inside your head either visually or audibly, a little person then sees
> this and so on down the chain of continually progressing homunculi to
> such an extent that no conclusion can be extracted from the mess?

Sort of. The problem is that our capacity to see and recognise visual
images or to hear and understand spoken or written words is the
capacity we have to explain. Carrying the images or words into our heads
(to be seen and heard etc.) is just duplicating the problem
internally, not explaining how we do it: What we need to know is what
is going on in our heads that enables us to
see/recognize/hear/understand. As long as we keep keep on talking about
seeing things, even seeing things in our heads, we're not explaining.

As Dennett says, a real explanation has to discharge the homunculus that
is seeing and hearing things inside us and replace it by what our heads
(or other systems with the same capacities) are really doing. You can be
sure that whatever that is, you won't be aware of it going on in your
head, because "you" ARE that process, whatever it is, not merely the
witness of it.

(And if you're still not convinced that you are not aware of HOW you do
just about everything you are ABLE to do with your mind, try to
describe how you do it explicitly enough so we can see whether it would
work if it were implemented on a computer: This is not to imply that
you ARE a computer -- just that if your explanation doesn't work on a
computer then it is unlikely that it is an explanation at all.)

> Could
> this homonculus problem not be an inaccurate view of how we perceive, in
> this case, internal language? Our communication mediums are
> audio-visual, so we could well feel that we see or hear internal speech
> when in fact we simply feel as in experience speech. Then the homunculus
> problem has ceased to be. Not a how he doesn't do it but a what he
> doesn't do?

Some people report (and why shouldn't we believe them?) that there are
images in their minds when they think; others say there are words; still
others speak of other kinds of sensory experiences; and some say they
are not aware of anything that goes on when they think, except that,
like the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon, their minds just come up with the
thought like magic.

None of this explains anything.

> This divergence to the problem posed by the little homunculi is an
> example of what I consider the brain good at doing. Is it not a logical
> move away from the idea of homunculi and to the idea of communication?

I'm not sure what you mean. I still haven't heard an explanation of

> The mind, in this case taken as an arbitrary comparison to that of the
> brain (a distinction, not seperation, to be seen between paradox and
> logic appreciation respectively), by use of its hypothetical defining
> function, intuition, recalibrates(it is a word) the initial thought
> experiment differently. Is it necessarily more accurate, or is it just a
> different proposal with an equal measure?...

Kid-sib's head is spinning from all this... Say what?

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