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?
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.
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.
Homunculus has been successively recognized over the centuries by philosophers, psychologists and (some) neuroscientists as a crucial conundrum of cognitive science. It still is.
Cognitive-science researchers need to recognize that Reductionist explanations of cognition may actually devolve to Homunculi, rather than eliminating them.
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.
My thanks to Claire S. Barnes PhD for her insights. Some arguments from the present paper appeared in rougher form in Nizami (2014b) and Nizami (2016). I sincerely thank the two anonymous Reviewers for their thought-provoking advice.
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