The assertion that we can do so is based on functionalism, which would seem to be Graziano’s theory of mind, to the extent that he has a coherent one. It posits that the mind is generated by the organizational state of the brain. Colloquially, one might say, the mind is what the brain does.
Functionalism is not the only materialist theory of the mind on offer. There is also identity theory (the mind is the brain), behaviorism (“let’s ignore the mind”), eliminative materialism (“the mind doesn’t exist”), and mysterianism (“who the hell knows!”—yes, that’s a real theory). Functionalism, in contrast to the others, is usually expressed in terms of computation. The brain is a computer and the mind is what it computes. The brain is to the mind as hardware is to software.
Functionalism is an error.
If the timing strikes you as a revealing coincidence—we just discover that the mind is computation in the same era that we discover computation—you’d be right. Ancient philosophers thought the mind was fire (not too long after the discovery of fire). Early modern philosophers thought the mind was a machine (just as the machine age got started). Humans have an amusing tendency to attribute the mind to whatever dominates the technology chatter of the era. Perhaps in the next few decades, the mind will be an iPhone or a Tesla autopilot. “Neuroscientists finally discover how mind works—read about it in Popular Science!”
But metaphors are lousy metaphysics. …Michael Egnor, “[article title]” at Mind Matters News
We actually don’t know what consciousness is, so it feels odd to speak of “engineering” it.
See also: Here are neurosurgeon Michael Egnor’s three earlier articles on Michael Graziano’s approach to consciousness:
Neuroscientist Michael Graziano should meet the p-zombie. A p-zombie (a philosopher’s thought experiment) behaves exactly like a human being but has no first-person (subjective) experience. The meat robot violates no physical principles. Yet we KNOW we are not p-zombies. Think what that means.
Did consciousness “evolve”? One neuroscientist doesn’t seem to understand the problems the idea raises. Darwinian evolution must select physical attributes. If consciousness evolved as a mere byproduct of physical brain processes, it is powerless in itself. Thus Graziano’s theories of consciousness are themselves mindless accidents.
Did consciousness evolve to find love? It’s an attractive idea but it comes with a hidden price tag
If consciousness is a mere tool of human sexual selection, it is mere plumage, a pretty enticement, of no meaning or import otherwise. But then what becomes of Dr. Graziano’s own intellectual labors?
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